Land Reform In Zimbabwe. Context and Sypnosis

Essay, 2016
15 Pages, Grade: 95.00




British Acquisition and Zimbabwean Rebellion
British Land Policies

Lancaster House Agreement and Resettlement

Fast Track Reform

Economic Effects

Boserupian Theory




A landlocked nation in Southern Africa, the area now known as the Republic of Zimbabwe has gone through many changes in the last century or so. From being under British rule at the turn of the twentieth century, to white minority rule, and finally a black African government. The story of this country is one of turbulent, and often violent, change. Today, the country faces many challenges, but one issue in particular stands out, an issue that has its roots in the very beginnings of the land as a British colony. The large land ownership by whites through most of the 20th century, and the subsequent land reform policies of the black government.

The land reform policies of the ZANU-PF government have contributed to a substantial downturn in the living standards of the Zimbabwean people.This paper provides historical context of the region’s unequal land distribution. Also examined are the ZANU-PF government's’ policies and attitudes from its assumption of power in the early 80’s through the end of its “Fast Track” reform. The numerous economic effects of land reform, such as the country’s collapse in agriculture, drop in living standards, and its notorious hyperinflation, will also be covered.

British Acquisition and Zimbabwean Rebellion

British Land Policies

Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company (BSAC) first arrived on the lands of what is now Zimbabwe in the 1880’s. Lavish mineral wealth existed in the area, particularly the gold fields of Mashonaland (Galbraith 1974). The British government, th rough the Company, encouraged mining firms, and regular citizens to come settle (Galbraith 1974). Initially, the Company intended to finance the governance of the colony through its mining exports alone, however, when gold and other mineral discoveries did not meet expectations, the administration was forced to find another source of revenue. . With its own expensive military and police force, the Company would have gone bankrupt if it was not for the huge agricultural potential of Rhodesia (Galbraith 1974).

Large-scale agriculture was quickly seen as the way to raise funds. In order to utilize this resource, the BSAC had to take over the land. A land commission was set up in 1894, and apportioned the prime land in the interior to British citizens. The Africans, who held 10 million acres before European arrival, were forced to the more arid periphery, crammed into about 2.5 million acres (Floyd 1962) “By the time of independence, in 1980, population densities were over three times greater in the black than in the white areas” (Palmer 1990, 165) With little land to cultivate, as well as being taxed by the Company, Africans had little choice but to work for the European-owned farms in the interior to make a living, of which their labor was in great demand (Rowe 2001).

In an effort to promote “conservation” in the urban areas, the government of the newly established Southern Rhodesia, a self-governing state, passed the Land Husbandry Act. The law, whose main goal was to “provide for a reasonable standard of good husbandry and for the protection of resources by all Africans using the land” (Zvobgo 2009, 56), limited stock holding by the natives to the carrying capacity of the land. Land ownership was also limited to eight acres, two for grazing and six for crops (Zvobgo 2009). Predictably, the Africans were vigorously opposed to the measure. To the average villager, cattle ownership was almost non-negotiable, and asking them to reduce their stock was a direct blow to their livelihood and wealth (Zvobgo 2009).

Black anger over land distribution reached a fever pitch in the 1960s, as the land currently known as Zimbabwe was then known as Rhodesia, and headed by white Briton, Ian Smith. Two black nationalist, left-wing organizations were established in the form of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). Led by figures such as Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe, as well as being funded by the Soviet Union and China, they fought a violent guerilla war against the government of Rhodesia in the 1970s (Palmer 1990).

Rhodesian Bush War

Irritated by Britain’s stance of its colonies having no independence before majority rule, as well as a desire to strip the native Africans of the few remaining rights they had, the Rhodesian government declared independence from Britain in 1965 (Moorcraft 1990). From the perspective of the whites, their very livelihood was under attack. The white Rhodesians did not want to see the kind of instability and chaos that had occurred previously in Kenya and Congo (Moorcraft 1990). A perceived invasion of foreign funded communist triggered a hard shift to the political right amongst the white populace (Baxter 2016).

Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain signaled to the black nationalist groups that they needed to act quickly to achieve liberation. Their strategy would rely on setting up camps in neighboring Zambia and Tanzania and invading Guerilla style into Rhodesian territory (Baxter 2016). Initially the superior efficiency of the Rhodesian government’s armed forces, as well as its intelligence service, blunted all insurgent attacks (Baxter 2016). However, the ZANU and ZAPU rebels turned to the outside for assistance and training, receiving it from China and the Soviet Union (Baxter 2016). The foreign support for the nationalist, the new front that opened on the border with Mozambique, and the duration of the war, combined to eventually cripple the Rhodesian government's war effort. The two insurgent groups were able to acquire vast support in the countryside and native areas because of their placement of land reform as their top priority. The white administration, realizing it was vastly outnumbered by the natives, combined with the reluctance to continue fighting a costly war, decided to come to the negotiating table. The United Kingdom also feeling backlash over events in Rhodesia, brokered the negotiations.

Lancaster House Agreement and Resettlement

Debate in Zimbabwe circles after the war revolved around socialism and egalitarianism. Activist and the newly established Zimbabwean African National Union- Patriotic Front, created from its absorption of ZAPU, were committed to building a new socialist society. They saw land as the primary symbol of their struggle (Sachikonye 2003). Nowhere else in Africa had the natives been deprived of so much of this crucial resource (Sachikonye 2003). The notion of land as liberation became cliché in the new black ruling class, and obsession over this symbol would soon come to trump ambitions for true democracy itself.

Bishop Abel Muzorewa would become the first black prime minister of Rhodesia in 1979 (Gregory 1980). Despite the reform, alongside a more representative government, the sanctions that were placed on the country would not be removed immediately. This forced the Muzorewa administration to rely on the still Apartheid South Africa for economic assistance (Gregory 1980). The new president also inherited the mostly white Rhodesian armed forces (Gregory 1980). Both of these factors alienated the president from his initial African nationalists backers.Abel Muzorewa would not last long as president of the country.

Later that year, the British, Rhodesian Government, and African Nationalist came together for negotiations. It would be the first time all three would meet (Gregory 1980). Under the terms of the agreement, land ownership inequities were acknowledged, but transactions could only take place on willing buyer, willing seller terms, which slowed the process (Palmer 1990). Under the agreement, whites who wished to keep their land could do so, and could not be forced out. The British would pay for half of the cost of the resettlement program, and only lands that were considered underutilized were to be acquired by the natives. In a rushed amendment, the parties agreed that the currency used to compensate the farmers had to be remittable in foreign currency (Palmer 1990).

Black peasant farmers had been resilient under the Rhodesian administration despite their condition. They produced maize, which was mainly consumed by the home market, while the white farmers grew more export crops such as tobacco (Palmer 1990). With Rhodesia’s declaration of independence in 1965 however, sanctions hit the country, and exports were limited. With this, the white farmers shifted their production to the home market, thus undercutting the small-crop black farmers (Palmer 1990). This made the white farmers and even more important component to the economy of the new Zimbabwe. By 1980, white farmers were producing about “90 percent of the country’s commercial food requirements” (Palmer 1990, 167). ZANU-PF had won the elections in 1980 with a resounding victory. The new Zimbabwean government under Mugabe was thus advised not to agitate this key component of the country’s economy, and keep resettlement at a gradual pace. That advice appeared to be heeded at first, but was eventually ignored.

By 1990, only about 2 million acres of land were acquired by the Zimbabwean government, only 19 percent of which was considered of prime agricultural quality (PBS 2016). Overall, land transfers were slow, with the Government blaming the restrictions in the Lancaster House Agreement (Sachikonye 2003). Specifically the Zimbabwean government thought that the “willing seller, willing buyer” clause of the negotiation limited potential land supply in comparison to the large demand. Land prices skyrocketed during the post-independence period of the 1980s, and it was doubtful that the Zimbabwean government would have been able to fulfill its duties of resettlement funding (Sachikonye 2003).

Military adventures in the 80’s by the Zimbabwe government took energy and effort away for the government's quest of land acquisition. The government first was in the middle of eliminating its political rivals in the north of the country, on the path to achieving its stated objective of a one party state (Krieger 2007). Also, the ZANU-PF government would be involved in Mozambique’s civil war (Krieger 2007). Both of these campaigns dried up funds for land reform (Kreiger 2007). The government missed out on prime opportunities to make meaningful land transfers. Under 1985 legislation, farmers in Zimbabwe who wished to sell their land had to give the government the first option (Krieger 2007). Of the 1,800 properties that were available between 1985 and 1992, the government would purchase less than a third of them (Krieger 2007).

There was also little political will for land reform in this period. ZANU-PF would go on to win comfortably in the 1990 and 1995 elections. With the opposition parties at this time were divided, the ruling government had little incentive for substantial action. More attention was paid to the new Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Privatization and trade liberalization would take place in Zimbabwe in the 90s. (Sachikonye 2003). This initially brought promise of increased prosperity for the black population, but instead became the context for endemic corruption at the top of the Zimbabwean Government.

In 1997, citizens, especially war veterans of the Bush War (i.e., against the white Rhodesian government) who were promised generous compensation packages, grew restless. In 1989, the Zimbabwe Liberation War Veterans’ Association was established, this brought together former combatants of the conflict to lobby the government for financial assistance (Human Rights Watch 2002). Several laws were passed in the veteran's favor, including the War Victims Compensation Act. However, the administering of these payouts were tainted by corruption, with several high ranking party officials suspected of taking the payments for themselves (Human Rights Watch 2002).

President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF tapped into this populist sentiment further by initiating the Land Acquisition Act. The program envisioned the acquisition and transfer of 50,000 of the 112,000 sq. km owned by white farmers (Krieger 2007). The new ruling party, ZANU-PF was determined to go ahead with the land transfers regardless of constitutional constraints. Amendments were added to the constitution to make compensation payments for the white farmers “fair” instead of “adequate” and “within a reasonable time” instead of “promptly” (Krieger 67, 2007). Authority over the matter was also transferred from the courts to the executive, who then had sweeping powers as a result. President Mugabe would frequently state that, “land was a political issue, and would not be derailed by the courts” (Krieger 67 2007). Enabled by their government’s tough rhetoric on land, peasants began invading and sacking white owned farms, suspected by many with the passive support of ZANU-PF officials. With public fervor at a high, and the government continuing to blame the law getting in the way in its quest for land transfers, “fast-track” land reform would begin starting in 2000.


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Land Reform In Zimbabwe. Context and Sypnosis
Geography of Population
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Zimbabwe, land distribution, ZANU-PF, government policies, hyperinflation
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Harel Tanjong (Author), 2016, Land Reform In Zimbabwe. Context and Sypnosis, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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