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Review of Outcomes of Post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe


By Fay chung

Outcomes of Post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe. Lionel Cliffe, Jocelyn Alexander, Ben Cousins and Rudo Gaidzanwa (eds). Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, Oxford and New York, 2012. Pp. v–269. ISBN. 978-0-415-62791-7 (hb). £90.

Zimbabwe undertook a dramatic and controversial land reform programme beginning in 2000. The book brings together nine important studies that present empirical analyses and data of what has happened over the past decade. The nine research studies are:

i. Sam Moyo, Changing agrarian relations after redistributive land reform in Zimbabwe

ii. Ian Scoones et al, Zimbabwe's land reforms: challenging the myths

iii. Marlene Dekker and Bill Kinsey, Contextualizing Zimbabwe's land reform: long term observations from the first generation

iv. Patience Mutopo, Women's struggles to access and control land and livelihoods after fast track land reform in Mwenezi District, Zimbabwe

v. Walter Chambati, Restructuring of agrarian labour relations after Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe

vi. Nelson Marongwe, Who was allocated Fast Track land, and what did they do with it? Selection of A2 farmers in Goromonzi District, Zimbabwe, and its impacts on agricultural production

vii. Phillan Zamchiya, A synopsis of land and agrarian change in Chipinge district, Zimbabwe

viii. Joseph Mujere, Land, graves and belonging: land reform and the politics of belonging in newly resettled farms in Gutu, 2000 – 2009

ix. Tendai Murisa, Local farmer groups and collective action within fast track land reform in Zimbabwe

This is a fascinating departure from the polarized political narratives which have dominated the discourse, with writers usually basing their work on opposed premises to reach pre-formed opinions. On the one hand one school of thought sees the reform as disastrous in terms of human rights, agricultural productivity and economic rationality. On the other hand, the opposed school of thought sees the reform as more democratic, removing 16 million hectares of land originally held by a small group of 6000 white landowners and distributing it instead to hundreds of thousands of small holders, so providing a platform for poverty eradication. Some 3 million hectares were distributed in the early 1980s, and a further 10 million was targeted for the post–2000 Fast Track Land Reform. The nine studies present varied views, based on the collected data.

From a political point of view, there is agreement amongst most of the writers that the distribution of land was based on "loyalty" to the then ruling Party, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF), which combined the two former Liberation Movements of ZANU and ZAPU. However, a number of writers point out that participants displayed "multiple identities", based on convenience and opportunism, with identity claims based on different circumstances. In order to obtain land it was necessary to claim membership of ZANU PF, but such claims could be made by both the political elite and the impoverished peasantry. The depth of such membership cannot be ascertained, as anyone can join ZANU PF on payment of small fee. However, the politically powerful used their power to dispossess not only white farmers, but also rivals, poor peasants or farm workers who usually took over the farm initially. Corruption was more common in areas closer to Harare where most of the ruling elite live. Various figures have been gleaned, with up to 22,373 A2 farmers (medium sized farms) and over 145,000 A1 farmers (small scale farms).

The leading role of war veterans in the land takeovers is documented by a number of the writers. By organizing mainly neighbouring peasant farmers, landless women and unemployed youths, war veterans managed to create a momentum from 1998 to 2000. This political movement, which was highly critical of the ZANU PF Government's reluctance to continue with the land resettlement programme after the 1980s, was initially suppressed by Government which arrested and imprisoned protesters as "squatters", but the refusal of donors to support the land resettlement programme as promised in 1998-99 and the formation of a powerful opposition Party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which was enthusiastically supported by white farmers, led the Government to embrace the land invasions and to legalize them by 2002. After the takeover, the expansion of the movement to the whole country, and the inclusion of more volatile Party youths in the process, violence against white farmers and MDC supporters became more common.

A number of the studies highlight the competition among various groups, with politicians suspicious of the technocrats who had managed the first land resettlement scheme of the 1980s. Thus the technocrats were deliberately undermined, with land allocations being made mainly by locally elected District Land Committees. Sometimes nationally based politicians intervened, with the result that the same piece of land could be given to two or more beneficiaries. Moreover, war veterans could also intervene, taking land away from politicians, and giving themselves larger plots! However, the war veterans' allocations could later be controlled by a combination of the technocrats and the politicians.

A further interest group comprised the traditional chiefs and headmen, who saw the land resettlement programme as an opportunity to extend the boundaries of their Communal Areas to the supposed boundaries of the past. Such claims could be contested by different chiefs and headmen, and also by local people, with the use of ancestral burial grounds as proof of their land ownership. The 1998 Traditional Leaders Act reinforced their claims for jurisdiction over ancestral lands, but in fact both resettlement schemes favoured elected leaderships instead.

What is noted by nearly all the writers is the weakening of the technocratic management of land resettlement. The settlers did not have access either to extension advice and control, or to input support. The success of the Fast Track Land Reform is reportedly uneven. However, a number of studies indicated that the beneficiaries were able to improve their livelihoods substantively. This was particularly true of the A1 small holders who depended on the land for basic foodstuff. The management system of the Committees of Seven elected leaders on A1 farms enables the beneficiaries to support each other and overcome challenges. The formation of farmers' groups has helped them to share knowledge, skills and labour, all this without State support.

The type of crops being grown has changed, with greater emphasis on food crops such as maize and beans. However, the small scale farmers have shown themselves able to compete in some cash crops, such as tobacco, cotton and sunflower. The areas where white farmers utilized higher capital inputs, irrigation and knowhow, such as wheat, dairy farming and horticulture have suffered.

However the number of people working on the former white owned commercial farms has increased. Under the commercial farming system, there were 314,879 workers in 1999. This had reduced to about 100,000 by 2003. It is estimated that by 2006 there were 570,301 self employed farm jobs in this area (Chambati, pp. 141 – 162). This has led to a severe shortage of labour for commercial farmers, with a resultant change in the labour employment system.

Two groups which have not fared well are women and the former farm workers. A minority of farm workers have managed to obtain land by joining in the land invasions. Few women have managed to obtain improved land rights, although about 40% of the A1 farms are farmed and controlled by women.

The important question of who benefitted from the Fast Track Land Reform is addressed. The answer is a very mixed picture and includes civil servants, particularly teachers; soldiers; war veterans; peasants; and the political elite. The percentages appear to differ from place to place. With better educated young people obtaining land today as a result of the successful education process in the 1980s and 1990s, the farming system has moved away from the largely subsistence peasant farming of the past.

Finally, what type of future land policies for the future? Proponents of secure freehold tenure (who comprise both supporters of the land rights of former white farmers as well as many members of the present black political and economic elite) continue to assert property ownership as the most important human right for economic development, allowing owners to borrow from banks. However, the present very diverse "ownership" systems include more than 200,000 new landowners if beneficiaries of both the first and second land resettlement programmes are included. They comprise a powerful political force which can overturn any party in democratic elections. It can therefore be predicted that the land ownership system will necessarily be a diverse one based on the traditional ownership system, remnants of the colonial ownership systems which have so far been preserved in both resettlement schemes, and perhaps some innovative systems yet to be developed.

Reviewed by: Fay Chung, Women’s University in Africa, Harare.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 75 (Winter 2013/14), pp. 96-100]

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