Access to land and its economic
bounty has been a constant issue throughout Zimbabwe's history. Under both British
colonial and then white minority government rule, black Africans were denied access
to the best agricultural land and forced to eke out their living from small plots
on "tribal reserves."
the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 restricted blacks' access to land and forced
them into wage labor.
1965, the former British colony known as Rhodesia -- after Britain's Cecil Rhodes
who arrived there in the late 1800s -- declared itself an independent state. Prime
Minister Ian Smith, however, refused pressures from his government to address
historical racial inadequacies and any move toward a black African majority rule.
The push for independence failed.
was in response to this that two major black African political parties formed
in the late 1960s, the Zimbabwe African People's Union and the Zimbabwe African
National Union, to agitate for land and political rights for black Africans.
Lancaster House Agreement
years of intense guerrilla fighting, Smith eventually yielded to British-brokered
peace talks in 1979. The result was the Lancaster House Agreement, signed by British
and black Zimbabwean liberation leaders from the African National Conference,
ZANU and ZAPU parties. The agreement marked the end of colonization but provided
restrictions on land acquisition that protected white farm owners.
the agreement, the new Zimbabwean government, led by President Robert Mugabe --
who won British-supervised elections in 1980 -- could not seize white-owned land
for the first ten years of independence. The government could buy land from white
farmers only through a willing-seller, willing-buyer program at full market prices.
Britain provided 44 million pounds to the government for land resettlement projects.
In the first
decade of independence the government acquired 40 percent of the targeted 8 million
hectares (19.77 million acres) of land. More than 50,000 families were resettled
on more than 3 million hectares (7.41 million acres).
Phase one land reform
1990 the willing-seller clause of the Lancaster House Agreement expired and Mugabe's
government amended the constitution to allow compulsory acquisition of white-owned
1992 Land Acquisition Act followed and provided the government with additional
land resettlement tools, including the removal of full market price restrictions,
limiting the size of farms and introducing a land tax, though the tax was never
second decade (1990-1997) of land redistribution was slow and Britain accused
Mugabe's government of giving land and money to its political cronies, instead
of the landless poor.
than 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) were acquired and less than 20,000
families were resettled during that time. Much of the land acquired during what
has become known as "phase one" of land reform was of poor quality,
according to Human Rights Watch. Only 19 percent of the almost 3.5 million hectares
(8.65 million acres) of resettled land was considered prime, or farmable.
initial 44 million pound resettlement grant, which Mugabe's government spent by
1988, formally expired in 1996.
Phase two land reform
1997, with pressure from landless blacks mounting in a declining economy, Mugabe
announced that he would seize approximately 1,500 white-owned farms. He said that
Britain should pay for any compensation to these farmers as Rhodesian settlers
originally stole the land from black farmers. Britain responded by saying it was
not responsible to meet the costs of land purchases.
1999 Mugabe announced that he would attempt to amend the country's 19-year-old
constitution in order to strengthen the executive arm of the government and extend
its powers to acquire land at will and without compensation.
in the fight against the proposed changes was the newly formed Movement for Democratic
Change, the first true opposition party in post-independent Zimbabwe, but Mugabe's
ZANU-PF government won the 2000 parliamentary elections but lost the referendum
to change the constitution.
appease the landless masses and maintain political popularity, Mugabe's government
officially encouraged veterans to occupy white-owned farms. In some instances,
members of the army helped facilitate land grabs and police were told not to respond
to landowners' complaints or to remove squatters. As a result of the land grabs,
many white farmers and their black workers were killed or subjected to violent
Fast track land reform
to the Commercial Farmers' Union, an organization that represents 4,000 white
farmers across Zimbabwe, despite the government's efforts to take back land, by
1999 4,500 commercial farmers still held 11 million hectares (27.18 million acres)
of the most fertile land in Zimbabwe.
the presidential election only two years away and pressure still on from opposition
party MDC, Mugabe announced his government's "fast track" resettlement
program in July 2000 and defended the land seizures.
Zimbabwe, and only because of the color line arising from British colonialism,
70 percent of the best arable land is owned by less than 1 percent of the population
who happen to be white, while the black majority are congested on barren land,"
Mugabe said in a speech to the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York City
on Sept. 8, 2000.
have sought to redress this inequity through a land reform and resettlement program"
that will result in "economic and social justice and [adhere to] our constitution
and laws," he added.
said his new program would be a "one farmer-one farm" program. It would
be an attempt to achieve more equitable distribution of land away from foreign
commercial farmers who owned more than one farm to redistribute to poor and middle-class
landless black Zimbabweans. Under the Zimbabwean constitution, underused or derelict
farms would be targeted.
The result of Mugabe's legacy
June 2000 and February 2001, the government listed 2,706 farms, covering more
than 6 million hectares (14.83 million acres), for compulsory acquisition. The
process was complicated, chaotic and in violation of the original Zimbabwean constitution.
Often, land seizure was based on whether the farm owner was a supporter of MDC,
or, according to a United Nations Development Programme report, error-filled.
Some farms listed for acquisition and resettlement included flooded land, industrial
land and even land already resettled, the report said.
won contested presidential elections marred by violence and corruption in March
2002. By May, a special session in Zimbabwe's parliament passed additional amendments
to the Land Acquisition Amendment Act. All acquisition orders, even those signed
before May, immediately transferred ownership of land to the state. Farmers were
to cease farming after 45 days and leave the land within 90 days.
October 2003, the BBC reported that the Zimbabwean government had seized approximately
8.6 million hectares of land (some 4,300 farms) as part of its program and that
1,323 white farmers remain. About 127,000 blacks have been resettled.
By Annie Schleicher, Online NewsHour