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Mandivamba Rukuni2

    *1 [Paper prepared for the Zimbabwe Economic Society Conference on Land Reform In Zimbabwe 1998.]
    *2 [Program Director, WK Kellogg Foundation Africa Program, and Research Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Zimbabwe.]


Since 1890 up to today, the land question has singularly had the most significant impact on Zimbabwe’s political and economic history. A national solution to the land issue, it can be argued therefore, may well be the single most important national investment as we enter the 21st century. In addition, tenure security, in terms of exclusive land rights of groups and/or individuals is the very basis of economic, political and social power and status. This is why it is agreed world wide that land reform is essentially a political process. That as it may, land reform has to meet more than political objectives, and basically land reform has to provide a solid basis for long term economic growth and social integration. To achieve this noble set of objectives, ‘land resettlement’ or ‘redistribution’ alone is no longer adequate, and it is more appropriate to plan and invest for a ‘land and agrarian reform’, which basically means transforming land distribution patterns, strengthening security of land tenure, and strengthening rural institutions that manage land administration and provide economic services to land users. This way, political, economic and social objectives can be met.

Following independence in 1980, a land resettlement programme resulted in one of Africa’s most successful examples of land redistribution. A total of 3.3 million hactares of land has been resettled to approximately 60 000 smallholder households. No other African country has acquired this amount of land from private owners and re-distributed it to the poor and landless. In the short to medium-term, however, the land resettlement programm of the 1980s only partially addressed the serious problems of land hunger, poverty and unemployment. A new strategy for land reform should therefore emphasise economic growth and development, and provide a solid foundation for rural economic empowerment. The land resettlement programme eventually slowed down by the mid 1980s and some of the reasons included the cost of land, decreasing ability of Government to finance the programme, inadequate institutional capacity, and widespread failure to farm successfully.


In developing a long term land policy, what can Zimbabwe learn from other parts of the world? First, there are many countries in the world, particularly in Latin America and of course Southern Africa where land is still a potentially explosive issue. As a generalisation, Asian countries have been more successful in land reform than African and Latin American countries and some scholars have offered opinions on this comparison. Economies invarably require fundamental changes in many institutions, including those of land tenure. The distribution of land - ownership is a major factor that influences this transition from one of social and political order to another. The experience of all industrialized and industrialising countries is the separation of a substantial segment of the ruling classes from direct ties to the land. Peter Dorner in his classic entitled „Latin American Land Reforms in Theory and Practice, A Retrospective Analysis" refers to the Asian experience in relation to Latin America. He cites the land reforms in Taiwan and South Korea and other emerging economic powers, as having occured early in their economic growth and industrialization process, and that the industrial sector was never as closely tied to the in-egalitarian rural structures as is often the case in Latin America. This observation is key to the

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future of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and other African countries where land reforms are given a low priority, or where there is no political commitment for it.

Another common feature where land is a contentious political issue, and in particular where land distribution is highly-inequitable, as is the case in Southern Africa and Latin America, is the argument against land reform on the ideological basis that says that private property is a near-sacred right. Private property constitutes the foundation of a just and civilised society. But, as scholars have argued, if this premise holds, then it must likewise be accepted that private property can not preform this noble function if most people are without it!

Land reform is a long-term process, not an event. Zimbabwe’s land policy therefore, should encompass some key values and principles, as well as a set of legal and administrative institutions that are effective and can deliver over a long period of time. Government, over the last few years has developed a small but competent in-house capacity to develop and implement such a vision. This paper is an attempt to seize the momentum created by recent events on the land question. Various interested parties have developed positions on this issue.


In his own way and style, President Mugabe continues to show the courage to both Zimbabweans and the rest of the world, with a message that basically says that land redistribution is a must, and secondly that this is a political objective he would like to accomplish for the eternity of history. Zimbabweans in general are in agreement and concerned about this issue, and recognise the need for lasting solutions that minimise short-term losses, be they economic or political. Since independence, and more so recently, various interest groups are active, and some loose associations have looked at this issue with varying levels of intensity.

This paper is an attempt to seize the momentum created by recent events on the land question. Various interested parties have developed positions on this issue. While this paper does not address directly these various contributions, it basically carves out a ‘national strategy’, largely based on various contributions, it basically carves out a ‘national strategy’, largely based on Government’s stated intentions, enriching that with positive elements out of the CFU’s contribution, as well as the various important points and issues raised at various stages of the public debate with the ZFU, ICFU and other key stakeholders in the private sector and civil society. In early 1997, the authors of this paper convened a small group of concerned Zimbabweans who met to discuss the land issue. Then in July 1997, a bigger group met to discuss the desirability of a new strategy for land settlement in Zimbabwe that would meet short-term and long-term needs of the nation. Members of this informal group met several times before November 1997, after which their deliberations were overtaken by current events which culminated into the land identification exercise. The small group, however, was able to continue engaging a wider spectrum of views as consultations proceeded with Government officials, farmers’ unions, some private sector people and some donors.

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4.1. A Vision and the Major Goals

The land reform programme will have three major strategic objectives. First is to achieve political stability, second is establishing a broader base for economic growth, and third is the need for social integration. Land reform will explicitly target these objectives, and treat them as mutually inclusive and re-enforcing. Land reform should address these three goals both in the short-term and long-term. Political stability will ultimately be reached through levelling the playing field in terms of land distribution and greater access to land by Zimbabweans through a vibrant land market where land becomes available at reasonable prices and reasonable and affordable sizes. Second is the growth of the economy and the availability of non-farm jobs at a rate greater than population growth rate. The combination of these two conditions will form the key ingredients of a Zimbabwean dream, where future Zimbabwean generations will have a reasonably fair chance to have a successful and fulfilling life, simply because such economic opportunities will be within grasp, irrespective of racial or economic family background. Economic growth and development is a key objective of this land and agrarian reform. Zimbabwe is still very much an agrarian society with the majority of Zimbabweans still rural and directly or indirectly relying of agriculture and the rural economy. It follows therefore, that a land reform which by its very impact leads to a greater number of rural populace engaged in profitable and commercial farming, will unleash backward and forward rural economic growth linkages that will accelerate the growth of the whole economy. This is achieved as rural incomes rise and the demand for industrial goods rises. Food prices for urban workers will decline as food becomes more abundant. In addition, land markets will be integrated with rural financial markets leading to greater investment in both rural and urban industries. Social integration is an ultimate objective if Zimbabwe is to continue its growth into a peaceful and progressive non-racial society. Such social integration is desirable both for rural and urban communities. True integration is not forced, but rather that people and communities are able to share common values across colour lines. Both economic development and political stability will contribute greatly towards the goal of social integration. Social integration is a major asset to society because cultural diversity in a situation of harmony enriches any society.

4.2. Principles and Values

A number of principles and values are drawn out from governments' current land policy, as well as the experience of more than a decade with land reform, and these will guide the land reform programme. The values and principles include, inter alia:

  • greater security of tenure as an essential ingredient for commercial success;
  • greater access to finance for land development and diversity in sources of finance for the programme so as to allow the mobilisation of a greater amount of financial resources;
  • appropriate legislative and administrative provisions for land registration, lease management, farmer selection, and conflict resolution;
  • greater efficiency of land use, more intensive farming, and divisibility of larger farms for greater access, greater economic utilisation, a better distribution of land;
  • a highly participatory and decentralised process that will empower and improve the civic participation of rural Zimbabweans in the land reform process;
  • an effective farmer support system including financial backing, training and experience acquisition, as well as an effective farm advisory and business management services.

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The single most serious enemy of land reform is not having a visible and meaningful practical program that is running on the ground. The single most important task of Government right now is therefore designing a national programme, with the backing of the key interested parties, that leads to immediate action. The courageous move by the President Mugabe in gazetting land and targeting 5 million hectares for compulsory acquisition has already achieved the positive result with the CFU proposing the availing of 1.5 million hectares with immediate effect that will be willingly sold to government without the burden and delays of compulsory acquisition. It is of utmost urgency, therefore, that this be the basis of re-commencing the land reform programme as this provides an avenue to kick-start the programme without major short-term political shocks and economic instability. Within a few years, greater capacity will be developed both financially and institutionally to implement the rest of the programme, and this phasing of the programme will most likely result in a win-win situation as the success of the programme brings greater commitment from all quarters.

Progress towards this can be accelerated in the following ways:

  • speed up land acquisition by Ministry of Lands and Agriculture working closely, as has already commenced with the CFU in identifying land that will be willingly offered to Government without going through the protracted compulsory land acquisition route. Ministry has to expeditiously assess this land for suitability for resettlement, and confirm the commitment of the farmers to availing the land.
  • Government experts work in greater collaboration with experts from the private sector and all farmers’ unions in preparing a comprehensive plan and fundable document that will be used immediately to source and mobilise funding for the programme. This should provide additional information and data into Government budgetary process for the programme.
  • establish a mechanism under Government’s auspices for continued high level consultation and joint planning with the private sector, farmers’ unions, and other key players.
  • formulate a public relations and awareness programme that projects the national effort and growing consensus and commitment by all parties, as well educating the media on the political and economic strengths of the programme.


Four new categories of land reform are proposed for the future, and a number of new resettlement/reform options will be introduced under each so as to broaden access and flexibility. The four categories are: I) semi-commercialised small-scale settlement on newly acquired land; II) fully commercialised small- to medium-scale settlement on newly acquired land; III) land tenure reform on existing resettlement areas; and IV) land tenure reforms in communal areas.


It is expected that the largest portion of newly acquired land, may be at least 75%, will be settled by small-scale land users from poor, landless and disadvantaged communities. Under this category, Options 1 to 5 are offered as follows:

Option 1:Lease with Option for Title Deed for Small-Scale Mixed-Farms.

It is proposed that most of the newly acquired land be settled under this option. Land acquired as large scale commercial is sub-divided and settled by selected farmers. Suitable candidates are selected from Zimbabwe’s rural population that includes the poor, the displaced, and the landless. Land is settled under a 10 year lease with option to purchase and award of a title deed. Settlers are generally not expected to pay the market price for the land, but are expected to pay a lease cost

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that covers the administrative cost. Land, however, is expected to develop into fully commercial land within 10 years as landowners develop and invest in this land as qualification for title deeds. This land is planned and settled as stand alone mixed farms for cropping and grazing.

Option 2: Long-term Tradable Leases for Small-scale Mixed Farms.

This is a variation of Option 1, with the provision that landowners who, within reasonable limits, are unable to develop the land, or unable to service the lease, will be allowed by the State to either convert to a 99 year lease, or trade the lease for value of improvements to another land user who then has full option for title. This option protects the poor against loss of rights in the event of lack of improvement and the option stills allows a commercial exit.

Option 3: Village Settlement with Family Title for Arable and Residential Land. Under this option, an identified cohesive group of families have option to settle on newly acquired land as a village, particularly on newly acquired land near communal land. In this case the families are offered leases with the option for family title deed for arable and residential land. The village assembly acquires a village land title which includes the group title for common land. This option is suitable for families and individuals who are part of a clan or neighbourhood moving from a communal area. This option also allows the semi-commercialisation of traditional tenure, and reduces the cost and pain of resettlement, as well as provision of services and social infrastructure. The land affairs of the village are locally managed by a village or primary court.

Option 4: Village CAMPFIRE Settlement with Title for Land and Rights over Wildlife.

This option is appropriate where the existing land use is largely wildlife based. Resettled families are given an option to continue with wildlife based land-use practice through a modified CAMPFIRE village settlement. These resettled families are offered leases with option for long leases or title deeds. Land users maintain rights over wildlife in their area, and reap benefits through eco-tourism and other consumptive and non-consumptive commercial activities.

Option 5: Lease with Title Option for Specialised Farming.

Under this option, farmers are settled for specialised production of high value crops such as tobacco, horticulture, dairy, tea, coffee, or sugar cane.


Under this category, which will account for say 25% of the newly acquired land, indigenous commercial farmers will be settled on small- to medium sized farms. All land is settled on a lease with option for title deeds. Leases are generally targeted for un-developed land. Where there are adequate improvements, then option for outright purchase and title should be offered. Settlers are expected to pay the economic value of land and economic rates of interest (as opposed to market rates) over a period of up to 25 years. Acquired land is sub-divided into small to medium-sized farms depending on intended land use and agro-ecological considerations. The following options are offered under this category as follows:

Option 6: Lease with Title Deed Option for Intensive Small/Medium Scale Mixed Farm

This option is for a traditional mixed livestock cropping farm depending on potential.

Option 7:Lease with Title Deed Option for Small/Medium Scale Commercial Tobacco Farms Farming.

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This option is for those areas suitable for tobacco growing where large farms will be sub-divided into small/medium sized units as required for efficient and intensive tobacco production consistent with crop rotational needs and other environmental considerations. Settlers are especially selected for this and effort put in place to avail them financial, training, and technical advisory support.

Option 8:Lease with Title Deed Option for Small/Medium Scale Commercial Horticulture Farms.

This is similar to Option 7 with a target for high value production and value of adding for flowers, fruits, vegetables and for local and export markets.

Other Specialised Options Are:

Option 9: Lease with Title Deed Option for Small/Medium Scale Commercial Dairy Farms

Option 10: Lease with Title Deed Option for Small-Scale Commercial Wildlife/Livestock Farms.

Option 11: Lease with Title Deed Option for Small-Scale Commercial Sugarcane Farms.

Under the fully commercial settlement special provision is made for rural residential land, and for registered companies as follows:

Option 12: Rural Residential Settlement Lease with Title Deed Option.

In keeping with the dreams of most Zimbabweans, individuals and families should have option for a residential plot on a planned rural suburb where there are prospects to build a improved housing with water reticulation and lighting for the higher income groups, with provisions for all income groups able to settle for residential land right only.

Option 13: Registered Companies for Mixed and Specialised Farming on Lease with Title Deed Option.

This replaces the previous Model B as legal registered companies of commercial farming individuals are offered leases and title option.


All existing resettlement areas should be offered option 14 or 15 immediately.

Option 14: Re-organised Model A with Individual Farm Units and Lease with Title Option.

Under this option, the current permit system is replaced with a lease/title option after land is re-planned into individual farm units.

Option 15: Lease with Title Option for Arable and Residential Land on Model A.

Under this option, the resettlement scheme remains as is with individual arable and residential land, and common grazing. The current permit system is replaced with a lease/title option for the arable and residential land, with a group title for common land.


Option 16: Village Title with option for Land Registration Certificates for Arable and Residential Land.

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This will be as recommended by the Land Tenure Commission (1993).


The institutional framework for this programme is largely based on the government infrastructure, and supported by civil society and other partners bringing various competencies. The legal framework falls short largely because of the absence of a clear and comprehensive land policy which deals with issues tenure security, and support for land users. This policy is currently under preparation and most urgently awaited.

7.1. Central role of Government

The current inter-governmental structures as led and co-ordinated by the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture and other key support Ministries will implement the program. These structures will be supported by various inputs from other partners and key interested parties.

7.2. National Land Board

To provide overall guidance and civic participation at higher levels, a National Land Board is proposed. The Board could be established through an appropriate Act of Parliament and reporting either through the Lands and Agriculture Minister, or through the appropriate Minister of State in the Presidency. The composition of the Board will be such that it comprises of eminent persons from across Zimbabwean society including Government. Key interest groups will be represented and so will other important sections of civil society. An independent chair will be appointed. The terms of reference of the Land Board will be fleshed out by the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture so as to cover all key areas required in effective overseeing and supporting the land reform programme, and advising Government on land policy. Such a board could play a vital role in enhancing the credibility of the programme, and providing additional ‘think tank’ support to Government.

Public relations and awareness campaign

It is proposed that Government invests into a public relations and awareness campaign on the land issue. This task should be more effective given a national plan backed by the private sector and all the farmers’ unions. It is important that Zimbabweans, as well as foreign nations fully understand the legal, political and economic significance of the land reform programme, and the growing commitment and consensus for the programme as it progresses.

7.3. Civil Society, Stakeholders and Provincial Land Boards

A decentralised participatory process will be ensured by the establishment of various bodies comprising various stakeholders and local communities, including the intended beneficiaries of the program. These structures will be advisers to government at all levels particularly at provincial levels where a Provincial Land Board would provide the advisory mechanism for Governors and Governmental departments.


Government and bilateral donors are the potential main source of funds and a concerted and aggressive program will be put in place to raise these funds. This task is most urgent and requires a highly professional document to be prepared. Government will budget fully for the land reform programme to incorporate funds expected from various sources. This task will be completed once a national plan is in place. To date, it has been rather difficult to mobilise funds from financial markets and from donors. Commercial banks in particular have restrictions on long term financing of land purchase. Donors, particularly multilateral, also face restrictions in financing

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land purchase and transfer. Both groups, however, desire to see a more vibrant land market, as well as a more supportive financial service for a growing and diversifying farming sector. In that regard they are in a position to support other aspects of the programme besides land purchase.

8.1. Land Reform Trust Funds

In light of all this, it is proposed that a Land Reform Trust Fund be set up with the following objectives:

  • mobilise funds initially from donors, philanthropists and other well wishers, and ultimately from the local financial market;
  • channel those funds into various appropriate avenues including relevant government departments, as well as direct investment into commercial banks, agricultural banks and other appropriate financial institutions;
  • establish a long-term endowment fund for land settlement over the next 10-20 years;
  • provide policy guidelines for financial backing to newly settling farmers towards purchase of land, as well as short to medium term financing of farming operations;
  • establish a secretariat to co-ordinate the activities of the Trust.

The National Land Board may act as the board of trustees or appoint one to fulfil this role.


Zimbabwe has bravely swallowed some of the economic reform medicine over the last 8 years, and it is clear that the battle is not won until a number of fundamental and structural issues are addressed. Land reform is one of those, if not the most critical. The political instability as a result of a malfunctioning economy and an unresolved and potentially explosive land reform issue are a real threat to future prosperity and social progress. It is therefore prudent to aim for a reform program that addresses the three major objectives of political stability, economic development, and social integration. There is scope and urgent need for a national plan backed by all key players including the private sector and civil society. An implementable plan has to be hatched within months, and collective responsibility is desirable in planning and financing the program. This is achievable, and Zimbabwe’s success with such an effort is needed in order to provide courage and commitment to other countries such as South Africa and Namibia, who still have to find lasting solutions to the land question ‘time bomb’.


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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | August 2001

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