The land issue in Zimbabwe
Updated February 2002
See also UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME 2002, Zimbabwe: Land reform and resettlement [PDF document] and Farm occupations and the breakdown in the Rule of Law.
Is the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe "correcting the colonial imbalance in the distribution and ownership of the country's land resource", as the incumbent President Robert Mugabe claimed in his address at Manyoni Farm? Or is it an attempt by the ZANU PF government to drum up support by using the century old land issue.
There is a juxtaposition between the poverty stricken, overpopulated and overgrazed areas of the Kadenge and Khumalo Communal Lands and the extensive pastures and arable land of Farms such as Mt. Pleasant and Manyoni Farm that cannot be ignored.
Zimbabwe has a total land area of about 39 million hectares of which 33.3 million hectares are suitable for agricultural purposes and the remaining 6 million hectares have been reserved for National parks as well as Wildlife and Urban settlements. At independence agricultural land was divided along racial lines as follows: 6 000 white large-scale commercial farmers controlled about 15.5 million hectares almost half the total agricultural land in the country; while 840 000 communal area farmers controlled about 16.4 million hectares.
This uneven land distribution pattern between the large-scale commercial sector and communal areas also extended to the suitability of land for agricultural purposes. Of the total communal area land, more than three-quarters is located in low rainfall regions where the potential of land for agricultural purposes is limited. In the large-scale commercial sector, over half of the total land is located in the high rainfall regions where land suitability in terms of agricultural potential is very high.
However, all sides, from the government itself, to war veterans, commercial farmers, peasants, civil society, donors and even the British government agree that there should be a redistribution of land. All sides concur that one cannot talk of meaningful poverty reduction for the majority of Zimbabweans and ignore the land question. Similarly, it is agreed that sustainable economic development can be attained in Zimbabwe only if there is equitable redistribution of the land resource. The problem appears to be on how this is to be done.
Since late 1998 Mugabe has been using phrases such as "rich farm lands in former white colonial hands" and has explained the farm occupations as government curing "the economic and social ills bedeviling the nation" (See, for example, "Address by the President in Matobo District", 17 September 1998).
Since then, relations between Zimbabwe and Britain have been considerably strained over the land issue. The Zimbabwean government insists that Britain has backtracked on land reform funding agreed on at Independence in the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 and that the former colonial power has a moral obligation to correct colonial injustices and pay for a comprehensive redistribution programme.
Britain had initially indicated its willingness to assist in the Land Reform Programme, and was prepared to release £36 million. The Zimbabwean government, however, claimed that this amount was insufficient. The British government retaliated by stating that the land acquired by the government was redistributed to government officials and elites and not ordinary Zimbabweans.