The long road to compensation for Zimbabwe's farmers

accreditation

Back in November 1997, Zimbabwe's government issued a notice of the compulsory acquisition of 1 471 farms.

The goal was to acquire some 5 million hectares of farmland, with the intention to compensate farmers for their land. Five million hectares is some 500 000 square metres, or around 1.5 times the size of Lesotho.

The initial plan quickly unravelled. Donors and government failed to reach consensus, accusing each other of reneging on their promises to fund land redistribution, or failing to adhere to agreed-upon principles.

As late as 2004, British embassy spokesperson Sophie Honey maintained the UK had not reneged on its commitments – that the UK had provided ‎£44m for land reform in Zimbabwe and ‎£500m for bilateral development assistance, but Zimbabwe had failed to stick to the principles of effective, well-managed and pro-poor land reform.

And the late 1990s, rising tensions meant the process of land reform slowed to a crawl. By 1999, just 70 000 hectares – not even the area of Harare – had been acquired for redistribution.

Rise of the opposition – and expropriation without compensation

Dissatisfaction over the land question, coupled with the country's economic downfall, provided the ideal platform for the rise of opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The MDC's manifesto promised economic reforms and addressed the land question, promising to acquire under-utilised land, derelict land already identified and designated, land where the owners had multiple farms, and all corruptly acquired land. In response, government proposed a policy that sought to acquire land on a compulsory basis, without compensation.

It was not the only proposed change, in fact, but part of a broader constitutional amendment that incorporated a Bill of Rights and limited the president to two successive five-year terms.

It was rejected at a referendum in 2000.

Boiling over

Concerned over their prospects at the next election, the ruling Zanu-PF called for radical land redistribution.  

For their part, the War Veterans Association – staunch supporters of then-president Robert Mugabe – organised a movement officially termed the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme, and began a series of land occupations.

According to Zimbabwe media reports of the time, they seized thousands of white-owned farms. Human Rights Watch condemned the process.

Farmers, via the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), approached the courts in protest against the land invasions. The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe repeatedly ruled in their favour.

Ultimately, however, the constitution was amended to allow for the takeover of land without compensation, barring for improvements to the property. The Land Acquisition Act was further amended in May 2000 via the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act of 1986.

More than 2000 farms were legally listed for compulsory acquisition.

But while legal and constitutional instruments were being put in place, the violence that erupted at farms – against both farmers and their farm workers – resulted in deaths, injuries and damage to property.

The end of property rights – and economic collapse

In an effort to regulate the process and instill a sense of order, the Zimbabwean government introduced two models for land distribution.

A1 schemes were introduced for smallholder production, while A2 schemes were introduced for commercial farms.

During the fast-track land reform programme, agricultural property ownership rights were cancelled, with the land in question being allocated free to resettled farmers. In many cases, pre-existing production standards were not maintained.

The destruction of the collateral value of an important national asset meant billions of dollars' worth of collateral value was simultaneously shed from Zimbabwe's economy overall.  

Economist John Robertson wrote, "When agricultural land was disabled by government’s decision to cancel its collateral value, the flows of previously dependable raw materials to the manufacturing sector slowed or stopped. Factories had to downsize, or close."

Exports of an extensive list of consumer goods fell sharply and the deliveries of the same goods to local stores declined. More and more goods had to be imported.

Forced by debt to the negotiating table

Meanwhile, imports had to be paid for with increasingly scarce foreign exchange. Not enough was left to repay outstanding foreign debts.

Under new president Emmerson Mnangagwa, debt haunts the country, and has had to be restructured by international financial institutions.

Solving the land question has been included in pre-conditional reforms for relief.

This prompted government to act and work out a plan to compensate white commercial farmers, but only for improvements.

On Sunday, after almost two decades, farmers finally agreed to be paid an interim payment of RTGS$53m, which equates to about R240m. 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
14.75
-1.0%
Rand - Pound
20.26
+0.1%
Rand - Euro
17.29
+0.2%
Rand - Aus dollar
10.72
+0.1%
Rand - Yen
0.13
+0.1%
Gold
1,754.62
0.0%
Silver
22.41
0.0%
Palladium
2,019.00
0.0%
Platinum
944.00
0.0%
Brent Crude
75.34
-0.4%
Top 40
56,605
-0.9%
All Share
62,864
-0.7%
Resource 10
56,497
-3.9%
Industrial 25
81,170
+1.0%
Financial 15
14,018
+0.5%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Company Snapshot
Voting Booth
What potential restrictions on unvaccinated South Africans may make the biggest difference to public health, the economy?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Limited access to restaurants and bars
9% - 41 votes
Limited access to shopping centres
17% - 79 votes
Limited access to live events, including sport matches and festivals
28% - 129 votes
Workplace vaccine mandates
46% - 212 votes
Vote