Zimbabwe Will Never be a Colony Again

Part 1

Demonisation of Zimbabwe

During the past seven years, the Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) [ZANU(PF)] regime in Zimbabwe, and especially President Robert Mugabe, have come under relentless imperialist attack. From being regarded as a source of stability in southern Africa, a symbol of civilised conduct and a salutary example of good governance, the Zimbabwe regime is now regularly portrayed by the imperialist propaganda organs and statesmen alike as a lawless and uncivilised administration which threatens to destabilise the whole of southern Africa. President Robert Mugabe, not so long ago considered as the perfect gentleman and an instrument of democracy, peace and reconciliation within Zimbabwe and southern Africa, has suddenly been recast into the role of devil incarnate, a power-hungry dictator and a white-hating racist.

What could be the reasons behind this 180 degrees change of front effected by imperialism, in particular British and US imperialism, on the question of the evaluation and characterisation of the Zimbabwean regime in general and President Robert Mugabe in particular? Why this demonisation of Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe? As we have often stated before, there are three main reasons for it. First, Zimbabwe’s rejection, albeit belatedly, in August 1999, of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) demanded by imperialism through the World Bank/IMF combine. Second, Zimbabwe’s military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in support of the Kabila regime’s struggle against imperialist-inspired aggression against Congo by Rwanda and Uganda. Third, and most important, Zimbabwe’s determined, and successful, endeavour to restore to the people of Zimbabwe the land, which was stolen from them at gunpoint by the colonialist marauders of Cecil Rhodes and their successors. Here, in this article, we concentrate on the land question alone.

Historical background

Ever since the beginning, in 1890, of European settler occupation of Zimbabwe, and the resultant progressive dispossession of the indigenous people from their land, the question of land rights and ownership has been, and remains, at the centre of the struggle of the Zimbabwean people to regain their freedom and embark on the road to economic prosperity and political and social development. Without a radical resolution of the land question, it is impossible for the Zimbabwean masses to safeguard their national sovereignty and improve their economic well-being. In view of the flood of anti-ZANU imperialist propaganda, full of calumnies and hysterical assertions, totally lacking in all historical analysis, it is important to briefly outline here a few important facts from Zimbabwe’s history in so far as they have a bearing on the land question.

Being firmly convinced that the territory north of the Limpopo river was as rich in minerals as the Rand goldfields in the Boer-ruled Transvaal, Cecil Rhodes, the then Prime Minister of the Cape, through his British South African Company (BSAC), fraudulently secured from King Lobengula the Rudd Concession of 1888 – which became an instrument in the hands of the colonialists for the acquisition of mineral rights in Mashonaland. Armed with this Concession, Rhodes persuaded the British government in the following year (1889) to grant his BSAC a Royal Charter, under which it was given the authority to administer and rule the region constituting present-day Zimbabwe. In vain did Lobengula protest that the Rudd Concession had been obtained from him through deception. He repudiated the Concession on the ground that he would “not recognise the paper, as it contains neither my words nor the words of those who got it”. Queen Victoria responded to King Lobengula’s protestation by the mere assertion that it “would be unwise to exclude white men”.

British imperialism was not the only power engaged in the scramble for Africa. Germany, a rising strong imperialist country, was equally intent on acquiring African territory. Germany countered the Rudd Concession by the Lippert Land Concession, also acquired by deceit from Lobengula in April 1889. However the Lippert Concession was quickly bought by the BSAC. But even before this purchase, Rhodes’ company had made vast land grants to white colonists in Mashonaland.

Disappointed at the absence of the ‘Second Rand’ in Mashonaland, but still believing in the existence of large deposits of gold in Matabeleland, BSAC, on an extremely flimsy pretext, invaded Matabeleland in 1893, smashed Lobengula’s kingdom, practised wholesale plunder and seizure of cattle and overwhelmed its inhabitants.

Following upon its victory, the Company established a “Loot Committee”, which decided to award a land grant of 6,350 acres anywhere in Matabeleland to every settler participant in the war, but with not the slightest obligation to occupy, let alone cultivate, it. Failing to find gold in Zimbabwe, the colonists turned in earnest their attention to a land grab for agricultural production – both arable and livestock – and for purposes of speculation. Thus began the process of ruthless expulsion of the Africans from their most fertile and productive soil and their being herded into poor and marginal land with the creation in 1894 of the Gwaai and Shangani Reserves in Matabeleland. The systematic infringement of the rights of the African people, the brutality meted out to them, and the humiliation heaped upon them by the colonists, were justified by the Rhodesia Herald of 19 April 1895 in these racist terms:

“For the Rhodesian it was absurd to take the untutored savage, accustomed as he is from time immemorial to superstitious and primitive ideas of law and justice, and suddenly try to govern him by the same code of laws that govern a people with many centuries of experience and enlightenment”.

First Chimurenga

It is not to be surprised at, then, that the people of Zimbabwe should have risen in revolt against these overbearing invaders during the First Chimurenga in 1896-97. Even less surprising is it that the chief aim of this war of liberation was to restore the land stolen by the invaders to its rightful owners – and with it to restore their dignity so cruelly violated by the settlers.

However, imperialist aggressors’ superiority in weaponry and organisation prevailed, ending in the defeat of the Chimurenga and making way for the systematic expropriation of the land of the Zimbabwean people through trickery, violence, war and legislative enactments of successive colonial administrations.

The result was that by 1914, white settlers numbering only 23,730 accounted for the ownership of 19,032,320 acres of land, while approximately 752,000 Africans owned 21,390,080 acres (see R.Palmer: Land and Racial Domination in Rhodesia, Heinemann 1977).

Following the First World War, the BSAC launched a major campaign to attract European immigration into Southern Rhodesia, which in turn necessitated further expropriation of African land to free it for occupation by the new arrivals from Europe. This campaign was fully supported by the British government, eager as it was to accommodate war veterans and relieve the strains arising from the economic depression in the aftermath of the war – not to speak of the land ‘gifts’ to senior government officials, civil servants, party faithfuls and suchlike cronies, “through long-term leases for little to nothing in terms of fees, and to persons who were hardly farmers themselves nor trained at all in the discipline … most if not all came from the ranks of the unemployed in the urban complexes of Britain; many will have seen cattle for the first time on arrival in the colony; and those who became fully-fledged farmers in due course will have been assisted into the profession by generous grants, concessionary loans and a policy framework that made the Rhodesian farmer one of the most coddled and privileged on earth” (The Scrutator, pseudonym of Ibbo Mandaza, Zimbabwe’s Sunday Mirror, 23-31 August 2000).

Those who today complain about Mugabe taking away the white farmers’ land in order allegedly to give it to his cronies (a reference to the Commercial Farm Settlement Scheme whereby some of the land has been leased to would-be black commercial farmers, as an integral part of the government’s programme aimed at indigenising large-scale commercial farming in Zimbabwe), are merely using it as a ruse to distract attention from the real cronies who benefited from vast land grants during the colonial era.

Land Apportionment Act 1930

Following the granting in 1923 of responsible government, the new Rhodesian administration set up the Morris Carter Land Commission (in 1925), whose terms of reference were informed by the concept of racial segregation. Embodying most of the recommendations of the Commission, the Land Apportionment Act was passed in 1930 and brought into force the following year. It restricted the African rights of land ownership to designated Native Purchase Areas. How the land apportionment stood in 1930 is shown in table 1.

As is clear from the figures above, the African population, numbering 1,081,000 in 1930, received 29.8% of the land, while the settler population, numbering a mere 50,000 then, received 51%. It is no surprise then that, as a result of this skewed, and wickedly unjust land distribution, by the late 1930s African agriculture was condemned to subsistence levels. What had by all accounts been a prosperous agricultural region was reduced to misery and destitution – a veritable hell for the Africans. By contrast, the prosperity and the wealth of the tiny settler population multiplied inversely to the meanness and misery of the existence of the African masses.

The ending of the Second World War was accompanied by another wave of European immigration into Southern Rhodesia, resulting in the trebling of the white population from 80,500 in 1945 to 219,000 by 1960. As many of the new immigrants took to farming, the number of Europeans owning or working farms nearly doubled during this period from 4,673 to 8,632. This in turn led to further evictions, forced removals and expropriation of the blacks to make way for the newcomers – a process very similar to that put into effect by the Zionists in Israel/Palestine during precisely the same period. During the decade 1945-55, conservative estimates suggest that at least 100,000 Africans were forced out of their land into the most inhospitable of Reserves – there to rot and eke out a miserable existence.

To add insult to injury, the white racist minority regime, having first created the conditions of overcrowding and degradation of land in the Reserves through a policy of segregation and brutal expropriation, then blamed the Africans for that state of affairs. That was precisely the meaning of the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951, which was passed for the purpose of compelling the Africans to practise de-stocking and conservation measures on their land – measures which their conditions of existence would simply not allow.

The shocking state of affairs in the overcrowded Reserves so alarmed even the Catholic church, that Donal Lamont, the Bishop of Umtali, was constrained to ask in 1959: “Can you in conscience blame the African, if eking out a tenuous existence from the poor soil in an overcrowded Reserve, he is swayed by subversive propaganda, while close beside him there lie hundreds of thousands of hectares of fertile soil which he may not cultivate, not occupy, not grace, because although it lies unused and unattended, it belongs to some individual or group of individuals who perhaps do not use the land in the hope of profit from speculation?”

Rhodesia Front Government

With the onset of the Rhodesia Front government in 1962, even the pretence of any concern for African welfare was dropped. The policy of segregation, forced removals and brutal evictions was practised to perfection. The year 1969 witnessed the enactment of the Land Tenure Act. While it repealed the Land Apportionment Act, it re-enacted and strengthened further still the latter’s provisions apportioning land in half – with each race getting 44.9 million acres. With whites, constituting less than 5% of the Rhodesian population at the time, receiving 50% of the country’s best and most fertile land, and the blacks, accounting for more than 95% of the population, securing 50% of the country’s poor soil, situated in areas of low rainfall, the conditions of overcrowding, overstocking, reduced agricultural productivity, horrendous poverty and environmental damage reached monumental proportions in the communal areas.

Thus is can be seen, that the loss of their land is not a matter of the distant past for the Zimbabwean masses. For many of them it is but a living memory. Equally many of the white farmers were granted large territories following the Second World War in recognition of their services during the war. Peta Thorneycroft and Doris Lessing, be it said in passing, are the daughters of RAF officers who were the lucky beneficiaries of this land loot.

Second Chimurenga

These miserable and pestiferously pestilential conditions of existence that passed for life could not, and did not, fail to cause outrage among the African masses.

It was against this background of expropriation, of forced existence in overcrowded Reserves with little in the way of health and education facilities, of being made to feel foreign in their own country, of having to put up with hellish conditions while a tiny minority of Europeans lived in a veritable paradise lording it over the African masses of Zimbabwe, that the latter, under the leadership of ZANU, embarked upon the Second Chimurenga. Land figured most prominently during this struggle, the chief aim of the liberation struggle being, in addition to the achievement of political independence, the restoration to the African people of land stolen from them at gunpoint by a tiny group of European settlers. “Mwana Wevhu” (Child of the Soil) was the rallying cry of the nationalists in the years preceding the Second Chimurenga. This is how, Herbert Chitepo, the national chairman of ZANU, with his characteristic ability to hit the nail on the head, put it: “I could go into the whole theories of discrimination, in legislation, in residency, in economic opportunities, in education. I could go into that, but I will restrict myself to the question of land because I think this is very basic. To us the essence of exploitation, the essence of white domination, is domination over land. That is the real issue” (Herbert Chitepo, Speech on a trip to Australia, 1973).

Such was the centrality of the land question that all attempts at resolution of the Zimbabwe question that did not address this issue failed. The failure of the Geneva Conference in 1976 and the Malta talks in 1978 can largely be explained by their inability to tackle the land issue. Without an understanding of the land question, the Lancaster House Conference would have shared the fate of earlier attempts and ended up in failure.

The very first attempt at coming to terms with the reality by the US and British governments emerged in 1977, when Dr David Owen, British Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, and Andrew Young, US Ambassador to the UN, presented the ‘Anglo-American’ proposals, accompanied by pledges to set up a fund for compensation to white farmers for the loss of land at the hands of a future government of independent Zimbabwe. Under these proposals, the UK was to provide £75 million and the US $520 million. Earlier, in 1976, Dr Henry Kissinger’s proposals for the resolution of the Zimbabwe question very much depended on the provision of $2 billion by the US for the purposes of buying out the settlers and resettling the Africans on land thus made available.

Lancaster House Conference

It was the promise given by the government of the UK, with the support of the US government, to set up a fund for financing the purchase of land from the white settlers, which made it possible for the Lancaster House Conference to succeed and enable the Patriotic Front (PF) to make the following statement on the final agreement: “We have obtained assurances that … Britain, the United States and other countries will participate in a multinational donor effort to assist in land, agricultural and economic development programmes. These assurances go a long way in allaying the great concern we have over the whole land question arising from the great need our people have for land and our commitment to satisfy that need when in government”.

Without such an understanding, without the above commitment given by the British and the US governments, it would have been impossible for the leadership of the PF to have accepted, let alone successfully sold to the Zimbabwean people, the agreement reached at Lancaster House. The people of Zimbabwe, who had lost 40,000 lives and undergone much hardship and suffering during the war of liberation, would have fought in vain if a mere 4,500 farmers were to be left in possession in perpetuity of half the country’s best land.

At Independence in April 1980 (just as at the time of the Lancaster House Conference), the land distribution in Zimbabwe is shown in Chart 1:

A mere 6,000 European large-scale commercial farmers could not be left to hold 15.5 million hectares, while 4.3 million black people were condemned to a hard slog on 16.4 million hectares of poor soil in overcrowded conditions.

This fact was not lost on even the British government. Lord Carrington, who chaired the Lancaster House Conference, in a statement released on 11 October 1979, clearly recognised the crucial significance of the land question and the “substantial” resources needed to redress the colonial legacy on the land question: “We recognise that the future government of Zimbabwe, whatever its political complexion, will wish to extend land ownership. The costs would be very substantial indeed, well beyond the capacity, in our judgment of any individual donor country, and the British Government cannot commit itself at this stage to a specific share in them. We should however be ready to support the efforts of the Government of Independent Zimbabwe to obtain international assistance for these purposes” (emphasis added).

Lancaster House deal – a messy compromise

For all the commitment made by the British/US governments, the Lancaster House deal was a messy compromise, which obliged the future government of an independent Zimbabwe to resort to the most expensive course of buying out white farmers piecemeal on the principle of willing seller/willing buyer. In addition, it was only too likely that the settlers would not part with prime land, with the government ending up buying less fertile pieces of land dotted all over the country, rendering any meaningful land reform planning and land use virtually impossible. Compulsory acquisition of land by the government was the obvious solution to the problem.

On 16 October 1979, Julius Nyerere, the then president of Tanzania expressed his view on the land question, saying that it would be impossible for a government in a free Zimbabwe “To tax Zimbabweans in order to compensate people who took it away from them through the gun. Really the British cannot have it both ways. They made this an issue and they are now making vague remarks mixing rural development aid with the question of land compensation. … The two are separate. … The British paid money to Kenya. That the future Government of Zimbabwe must pay compensation is a British demand and the British must promise in London to make the money available” (cited in the Utete Report, p.17).

At the Lancaster House Conference, Britain, far from being an impartial broker, was mainly concerned to achieve three objectives:

Put an end to the armed liberation struggle led by the Patriotic Front;

Safeguard British economic interests, white-owned land ownership included; and

Maintain the continuation of British influence in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe.

With the aim of achieving the above objectives through the Lancaster House Agreement, Britain obtained the disarmament and demobilisation of the ZANLA and ZIPRA forces under a British dominated Commonwealth Monitoring Force; guaranteed 20% representation in parliament to the white minority, accounting for a mere 1% of the population, for a period of 7 years; and blocked radical land reform for 10 years by enshrining the willing seller/willing buyer principle. During the ten-year period, the constitution could not be changed except with a 100% vote for the change, thus giving the white minority a complete veto in violation of all democratic norms.

The UK was eventually to pay £40 million – a paltry and grossly inadequate sum. This money was dispensed under the most difficult of conditions for Zimbabwe, for the latter had first to find funds for the purchase of land and then claim the money at the end of each year from the British government which, after scrutinising the books, would reimburse the Zimbabwean government on a 50-50 basis. Zimbabwe had to find a pound for every pound dispensed by Britain. In the end, the cash-strapped Zimbabwe government could continue no more with this arrangement, given the heavy demands on its resources from the needs of rehabilitation and reconstruction in the aftermath of the decade and a half of the war of liberation. By way of illustrating the paltry nature of the funds given by Britain to Zimbabwe, let it be said in passing that a whole 20 years earlier, the British government had paid £200 million to resolve a similar land problem in Kenya.

Under the Lancaster House constitutional dispensation, which made a sharp radical land reform all but impossible, between 1980 and 1990 the government of Zimbabwe managed to acquire only 3.5 million hectares and resettle 71,000 households. The communal areas continued, as heretofore, to be overcrowded, overstocked and overgrazed. The government was under great pressure to do something about the land problem – and do it fast.

With the aim of accelerating the mechanism of land acquisition and resettlement, the government secured the enactment of the Land Acquisition Act, subsequent to the introduction in 1990 of Constitutional Amendment Number 11, both of which had the effect of releasing the government from the vice-like grip of the willing seller/willing buyer provision.

However, besides being expensive, the new process ground to a halt largely because of the fierce resistance of the commercial farmers. When, in December 1997, the government designated 1,471 farms for compulsory acquisition, 1,393 objections were lodged, of which 510 were upheld.

In sheer frustration at the antics of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), the late Joshua Nkomo pleaded with them in these reasonable terms: “I don’t think we are being unreasonable if we say you commercial farmers, who own the best and the bulk of Zimbabwe’s land because of history, should share part of it with the indigenous, displaced and landless blacks who are the majority” (Joshua Nkomo, addressing commercial farms in Matabeleland, Zimbabwean Sunday Mail, 9 July 1989).

But to no avail. Confident of the support of imperialism, especially Anglo-American imperialism, the white farmers continued to be defiant and arrogant. Till the last, they insisted on being Rhodesians (Rhodies), refusing to behave as the citizens of the new Zimbabwe.

In 1996, a mission sent to Zimbabwe by the then British Prime Minister, John Major, reported back, recommending further assistance.

Labour government

reneges on Britain’s obligations

However, in the May 1997 election, Major’s Conservative Party was defeated, making way for Tony Blair’s Labour government. On being approached by the Zimbabwean government, to bring to fruition the discussions initiated during the previous Conservative government, the Blair administration reneged entirely on Britain’s Lancaster House undertakings to assist with Zimbabwe’s land reform programme. Clare Short, the then newly appointed Secretary of State for International Development, in a letter dated 5 November 1997, wrote in these arrogant and patronising terms to Zimbabwe’s minister of Agriculture and Land, Kumbirai Kangai: “I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new Government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers”.

Clare Short went on to say that her government would find it “impossible” to support “… a programme of rapid land acquisition as you now seem to envisage”, for such a programme would do damage “to Zimbabwe’s agricultural output” and undermine “investor confidence”.

Clare Short’s letter was greeted with delirious joy and jubilation by the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) in Zimbabwe, for it effectively signalled an end to compensation money and, therefore, in their eyes, an end to land distribution. However, David Hasluck, who had been the Director of the CFU for 18 long years (1984-2002), was roused to anger by Short’s letter to say: “I believe a Conservative government would never have done that … Clare Short knows damn well that there was a land issue at Lancaster House, how can she write a letter like that and expect to go forward?” (Exclusive interview published in New African Magazine, February 2003).

In this instance, it is extremely instructive that even Roelf-Pik Botha, foreign minister of apartheid South Africa from 1977 to 1994, concedes that on the land question it is Britain, not President Mugabe and his government, which must take the lion’s share of the blame. In his article which appeared on 8 April 2004 in South Africa’s This Day newspaper, subsequently reproduced in 25 April issue of Zimbabwe’s Sunday Mirror, he reveals, inter alia, the following truths – dispelling the myths propagated by British imperialism:

“Much of what went wrong in Zimbabwe is attributed to Mugabe’s seizure of white commercial farms.

“In my opinion, Her Britannic Majesty’s government shares part of the blame. The land issue has a long history. After missing out on the Witwatersrand gold rush, Cecil John Rhodes was irresistibly attracted by reports that King Lobengula’s Matabeleland was rich in gold.

“He extorted a concession from Lobengula which enabled him to obtain a Royal Charter for his British South African Company (BSAC) with mischievous objectives. One of Rhodes’ buddies, someone called Leander Starr Jameson, led British troops on a plundering invasion of the vast regions north of the Limpopo.

“The force occupied Mashonaland in 1890, establishing Salisbury as their headquarters.

“In 1893 Jameson took Bulawayo, deploying their deadly machine guns against the Ndebele fighters.

“The same Jameson led an invasion into Paul Kruger’s Zulu-Afrikaanache Republick after Rhodes realised the republic would have far more rewarding loot than Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

“According to Terence Ranger of Oxford, most of the seizures of land in Zimbabwe by white settlers took place between 1898 and 1923. The pillaging of land in Zimbabwe under British colonial rule left scars which fuel black demands for restitution.

“The skewed distribution of land in Zimbabwe featured as a serious subject at the Lancaster House negotiations in 1979 in which Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe, Ian Smith and Bishop Abel Muzorewa played the key roles under the chairmanship of the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Peter Carrington. As a result of my close involvement in negotiations between the British and Smith governments, I got to know Carrington very well.

“A breakdown in the Lancaster House negotiations was threatening at one stage and I was requested to go to London to persuade Smith and Muzorewa not to pull out of the talks.

“It was a hard day’s work. I succeeded after explaining to them at length that the alternatives were ‘too ghastly to contemplate’.

“I clearly remember that I pointed out to Carrington the determinative importance of a commitment on the part of Britain to pay for the adjustment of disproportional land ownership. The British government agreed to make funds available for buying white farms”.

Botha then goes on to advise Britain not to shoot “straight from the hip” and instead to pursue the path of negotiations. He adds with great candour that “To shout at Mugabe publicly .. will not persuade him to change his ways. He believes he is on top of the world, a respectable and competent leader. He believes that he is being persecuted by other colonial powers for implementing a fair and reasonable land reform policy. And he is not alone in believing this. His popularity has been demonstrated repeatedly at meetings of African organisations”.

Clear, we think.

Background to the Fast Track Land and Agrarian Reform Programme

July 2000 – August 2002

Zimbabweans were stunned by Clare Short’s letter, repudiating all British obligations under the Lancaster House Agreement. What is more, it could not have come at a worse time, for its arrival coincided with growing restlessness in the ranks of the land-hungry Zimbabwean peasantry. The latter, in an effort to put pressure on the government, resorted to militant protests and land occupations. On 11 August 1997, on the anniversary of Heroes’ Day, there was a militant demonstration outside the Heroes’ Acre – the final resting place of the prominent heroes of the war of liberation. In the wake of the application of Structural Adjustment Programmes during most of the decade of 1990s, on top of a decline in wages there was a decline in industry, which shrank from 25% of the GDP to just 16% – a decline which worsened the situation on the employment front. Meanwhile, war veterans bestirred themselves, culminating in the formation in 1996/97 of the War Veterans’ Association. The question of land was increasingly being taken up spontaneously by the poor and land-hungry Zimbabweans. Since 8 million of the 13 million population of the country live in rural areas on congested reserves and Tribal Trust Lands, the government could ignore this question only at its own peril.

In June 1998, in an unprecedented move, the villagers in Svosve communal areas occupied Igava farm and pledged not to leave until they received a written undertaking from the government to settle them. The Svosve incident was only a prelude to similar widespread occupations of commercial farms at Nayamadhlovu in Matabeleland, Nyamajura in Manicaland and Nemamva in Masvingo. Although, with great reluctance, the peasants obeyed the government’s order to vacate the occupied farms, the first salvo by the land-starved peasantry had been fired. The government could not ignore these actions, more of which were to follow.

The response of the British government to the designation by the Zimbabwean government in 1997 of nearly 1,500 farms was predictably hostile. And it could not be otherwise, for any attempt to correct a historical injustice of such proportions was bound to meet with fierce resistance of vested interests of the European land-owning gentry, which boasted among its ranks some members of the British House of Lords and other members of the British political elite, who owned vast areas of land in Zimbabwe as absentee landlords. A mere 4,500 white farmers and absentee landlords possessed as much land, only more fertile and productive, as the 13 million blacks.

Imperialist circles responded to the actions of the Zimbabwe government with a crescendo of abuse, denunciation and dire threats – accusing the Zimbabwe government of violating human and property rights, thus portraying the victims as villains, while working all the time for the maintenance of privilege in the name of human rights, rule of law and good governance. These imperialist outcries are best answered in the following words of Dr.I.S.G. Mudenge, Foreign Minister of Zimbabwe: “Whilst there was never an outcry over the violation of the human and property rights of the indigenous blacks by the white settlers, the British authorities have suddenly become the champions of human rights now that their colonial injustices are being corrected, and their kith and kin are losing their colonial heritage of white privileges. The black majority, who are the victims, are now being portrayed as the villains”.

Britain scuppers all attempts at an agreed solution

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean government persisted in its efforts to solve the land question amicably. To that end, it convened a Land Donors’ Conference in Harare between 9 and 11 September 1998.

In his inaugural address to the Conference, President Mugabe was doing no more than painting a realistic picture of the state of affairs in the Zimbabwean countryside when he warned: “If we delay in resolving the land needs of our people they will resettle themselves. It has happened before and it may happen again” (cited in Utete).

No less then 48 countries, including Britain, and a few international organisations were represented at the Conference, which agreed upon a package of basic principles and a framework for international assistance for Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Programme. The donors made promises to finance an Inception Phase, which was to be carried out in the first 18 to 24 months. This was to be followed by Phase II of a similarly donor-backed land acquisition and settlement programme.

However, owing largely to British opposition, none of the pledges of financial support given at this Conference were honoured. Adopting deliberately dilatory tactics, Britain refused to join the task force agreed to be set up to work out the modalities for the two-year Inception Phase and scuttled the agreement concluded at the Harare Donors’ Conference. Britain was subsequently to use the pretext of “land invasions” for its refusal to back the land reform programme. The truth, however, is that these invasions did not commence in earnest until March 2000.

Zimbabwe made two further attempts at resolution of this question through the involvement of the UN and the Commonwealth. In September 2000, as a result of a meeting in New York between President Mugabe and Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, a Technical Mission under the aegis of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was despatched to Harare in October of the same year. In the end nothing came of this effort largely because of the dilatory tactics adopted by the UNDP, which were aimed chiefly at getting the government of Zimbabwe to abandon its Fast Track programme of land reform.

Likewise, nothing came of the Nigerian initiative, for the agreement hammered out by a committee of 9 Commonwealth Foreign Ministers at its meeting of 6-7 September 2001 in Abuja was frustrated by Britain’s refusal to honour the commitments it made at Abuja.

Meanwhile, in February 2000, the government organised a referendum on a Draft Constitution which, if approved, could have furnished the basis for a durable solution of the land question. But the Draft Constitution was rejected to a large extent because of imperialist inspired and sponsored opposition. This constitution provided that there would be no compensation for land, but only for improvements.

Fast Track Land Reform and Resettlement Programme

Thwarted thus at every step by the combined forces of imperialism and its stooges in Zimbabwe, ranging from the powerful European commercial farmers to the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change, a party sprung into existence by imperialism), and the rejection of the Draft Constitution, the government of Zimbabwe had no course open to it other than that of resorting to truly radical measures to solve the land issue if it wanted to honour the aims of the liberation struggle.

Even the Zimbabwe Catholics’ Conference stated, as early as 1989, that “A war was fought and blood was spilt over the ownership of land. Lasting peace and prosperity can only be achieved if the land is shared equitably” (quoted in the Zimbabwean Sunday Mirror, 27 October – 2 November 2000).

The Zimbabwean government was further encouraged in this direction by the actions of the war veterans who, realising that imperialism and its stooges were hell-bent on scuppering the land reform programme, and being frustrated at the slow legalistic approach of the government, took matters into their own hands and, together with the peasants who had long attempted to occupy land, moved on to the white-owned farms.

Faced with this reality, the government could either endorse the actions of the war veterans and the peasantry, or use armed force to evict them and thus risk a bloody confrontation with erstwhile combatants. The latter would have been too ghastly for the government to even contemplate as the police and the army are headed by the former national liberation fighters. After all, far from being guilty of treasonable actions, the heroes of the war of liberation and the wider peasant masses were only attempting to correct a gross historical injustice.

The situation required urgent action by the government. To its great credit, the government of President Mugabe responded by the adoption of the Fast-Track Land Reform and Resettlement Programme (hereafter FTP) for the resettlement of the Zimbabwean peasantry, which had been starved of land for an entire century. The FTP began on 15 July 2000.

The fact that the FTP was being carried out under the legal framework of Zimbabwe did not prevent a ginger group of farmers of the CFU from resorting to the courts in a last ditch effort to prevent land reform being carried out.

Commenting on the activities and arrogance of this group of extremely reactionary white farmers, operating under the name of Justice for Agriculture (JAG), David Hasluck, made this pertinent observation: “But there is no point, in reality, no matter how much you believe in the law, to go to court and ask for something you are not going to get. Because the Chave Chimurenga is not about the law and the courts, it is about the revolution and the historic right that Clare Short says she doesn’t acknowledge” (cited in Mudenge)

In the light of the foregoing, it must be stressed that the motive force behind the land distribution enterprise was the land-hungry peasant masses, who spearhead this campaign – not the government of Zimbabwe, nor ZANU(PF). All that the government did was, through its FTP, to attempt to manage the process in an orderly way by outlining the criteria for land designation and acquisition. Of course, no revolutionary process can be run to order, without infringement of rules and criteria, no matter how carefully crafted and managed. That is in the very nature of such a historical upheaval. In the words of Dr. Mudenge: “That a number of these control fences (criteria) erected by Government ended up being overrun in the process is now history, and is easily explainable on the basis of the century-long wait that the people of Zimbabwe were subjected to, as well as the attendant emotional, even sentimental attachment that the people of Zimbabwe have towards land, be it on the grounds of national sovereignty and pride, or colonial heritage”.

It would have been a matter of eternal shame for a government headed by ZANU(PF), the leader of the successful war of liberation, to have left the land issue unresolved and have let a tiny minority of settlers monopolise the Zimbabwean soil. If we are to reproach the Zimbabwean government, should it in fact not be for not undertaking this land reform many years earlier? President Mugabe understood well the centrality of the land question as the key to the solution of other social, economic and political problems in Zimbabwe. Addressing a gathering of Catholics in Harare, on 30 July 2001, this is what he had to say on the question under consideration: “As in the past, the basis of conflict in contemporary Zimbabwe is the unresolved national question of land. It is also the basis of peace and all other rights that we wish for in a democracy. Its solution would enable us to end the two-nation, two-race model we inherited from colonialism. It would create opportunities for everyone and give a stake to the majority of our people, indeed it is the way to the recovery of our economy. This is why Land Reform is at the heart of the current struggle. We cannot relent on this one and we hope the Church will stand with and by us in resolving it” (cited in Utete).

Under the FTP, the government pursued the policy of speedy identification for compulsory acquisition of not less than 5 million hectares of land for resettlement, the provision of basic infrastructure (boreholes, dip tanks and approach roads) and support services (tillage and agricultural inputs), creation of secondary infrastructure (schools, clinics and rural service centres), and simultaneous resettlement in all parts of the country to ensure the even and comprehensive implementation of the programme.

Initially the FTP was aimed at relieving the communal lands of overcrowding. It was later extended to include the creation of an indigenous commercial farming sector.


Under the FTP, compulsory acquisition of land took place in accordance with the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, with the following categories of land being targeted for acquisition.

Derelict and under-utilised land;

Land under multiple ownership;

Foreign owned land;

Land contiguous to communal areas.

Excluded categories

Plantations engaged in large-scale production of tea, coffee, citrus fruit, sugar cane, etc.;

Agro-industrial properties engaged in the integrated production, processing and/or marketing of poultry, beef and dairy products, and seed multiplication;

Properties with Export Processing Zone (EPZ) permits and those with Zimbabwe Investment Centre (ZIC) certificates;

Farms belonging to Church and mission organisations;

Farms subject to Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements.


Under the FTP, the government opted for the policy of one-man-one-farm. In the event of the only farm owned by an individual being acquired owing to its contiguity to a communal area, the farmer thus affected was granted another farm elsewhere. Landowners were also given the option to offer land in substitution for that identified for compulsory acquisition. Equally, if a landowner possessed a single farm, but in excess of the maximum allowed size, he could offer to subdivide it and hand over the relevant portion to the authorities.

Two Models

Under the FTP, two resettlement models were used. Whereas Model A1 was aimed at ridding the communal lands of overcrowding, Model A2 pursued the aim of indigenisation, that of creating a class of black commercial farmers. Model A1, being for the benefit of the generally landless peasantry has a villagised and self-contained variant, whereas Model A2 is divided into small, medium and large-scale commercial settlements.

Although it has been claimed in the imperialist print and electronic media that vast amounts of land had been seized from the European settlers and made over to Mr Mugabe’s cronies. This is utterly untrue. The commercial sector aimed at preserving commercial farming and indigenising land ownership was open to any black Zimbabwean who could satisfy the designated strict criteria of eligibility. Just as many government supporters have received land under this scheme, so have the opponents of the government, including the Secretary General of the MDC, Welshman Ncube. Some privileged people defrauded their way into more than one farm, but they were exposed and had to return the excess land. Following the Utete Report two provincial governors lost their jobs. Mr Kaukonde, of the ZANU(PF) and Chairman of the Finance and Budget Committee, firmly stated that in Central Mashonaland there would be no land granted under Model A2 until Model A1 had been satisfactorily completed in his province.

Equally, contrary to claims in the imperialist media that all European farmers have had their farms confiscated, there are today approximately 850 European farmers, with one commercial farm each, who continue to farm and live in Zimbabwe.

The Utete Committee

The government of Zimbabwe set up the Presidential Land Review Committee under the chairmanship of Dr Charles Utete (the Utete Committee), which concluded its work and submitted its findings and recommendations in August 2003. After a careful study of this report, President Mugabe appointed a Land Review Implementation Committee to supervise the timely implementation of the recommendations of the Utete Committee.

The Utete Committee concluded that at the close of the FTP in August 2003, throughout the country a total of 2,652 farms with a combined hectarage of 4,231,080 had been allocated to 127,192 households under Model A1, while under Model A2, a total of 1,672 farms, accounting for 2,198,814 hectares, had been allotted to 7,260 applicant beneficiaries.

According to the figures contained in the presentation of Dr J.M.M. Made to the April (20-23) 2004 Conference in Harare, organised by the External Relations Department of ZANU(PF) under the title ‘The Liberation Struggle Continues’, between July 2000 and March 2004, the government had acquired 11 million hectares for resettling 500,000 families, of which 300,000 families had already been settled to date – all in the face of the “fiercest resistance from the British and Europeans using the local white owners”.

Taking the 24 years since Independence (April 1980 to April 2004), a total of 9,154 settler farms, covering an area of 17,403,232 hectares have been purchased or compulsorily acquired by the government for resettlement purposes. Of these, all but 1,736 farms, covering an area of 3,554,534 hectares, were acquired between 2000 and 2004.

The Land Review Implementation Committee has thus far repossessed land in excess of 45,000 hectares from those who had managed to acquire more than one farm. This land is set to be reallocated to traditional leaders to help the further decongestion of communal areas, as well as to those who qualified under Model A2 but have received no land so far.

All the buildings under Model A1 resettlement are turned into government property and reserved for use as schools, clinics and community centres. As for the Model A2 farms, the infrastructure belongs to the beneficiaries of the farm, with an obligation on their part to permit other farmers on the same farm the use of this infrastructure on a cost recovery basis.

[To be concluded in the next issue of LALKAR]


In writing this article the author is indebted to the following sources, on which I relied for a great deal of the information here presented:

The Report of the Presidential Land Review Committee, under the chairmanship of the former Cabinet Secretary, Dr Charles Utete, August 2003.

Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Programme (The Reversal of Colonial Land Occupation and Domination): Its Impact on the country’s regional and international relations. Paper presented by Dr I.S.G. Mudenge, Zimbabwe Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the Conference ‘The Struggle Continues’, held in Harare, 18-22 April 2004.

‘Western Socialists’ Views of Ex-Liberation Movements’, also by Dr Mudenge at the above Conference.

‘Land Reform: The Zimbabwean Experience’, paper presented by Dr J.M.M. Made, to the above Conference

Several articles from the Zimbabwean Sunday Mirror by Dr I. Mandaza, who writes in that paper under the pseudonym of Scrutator.

Conversations with Paul Vanlerberghe, a Belgian comrade who has lived in Zimbabwe for over a decade.