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1.0 Introduction: Economic basis of Land Reform

Over six million people live in Zimbabwe’s marginal rural lands which are characterised by infertile soils and unreliable rainfall, lack of control of water rights and top secret access to the bulk of the nation’s natural resources. Inequitable access to these resources means that 4500 mainly white large farmers today dominate Zimbabwe’s largely agrarian economy. Together with transnational capital, white agrarian interests control key sectors such as tourism, forestry, commodity exports and the narrow agro-industrial complex underlying its urban political economy. These imbalances dramatically skew Zimbabwe’s income distribution structure, reflecting an unchanged legacy of colonial rule. Thus, in spite of the liberation war, a narrow racial and class monopoly over land has been consolidated through extra market and repressive governance processes for decades.

This economic structure undermines the growth of rural incomes and the expansion of domestic Zimbabwean markets such that over 60% of the rural people are ot afford basic health and educational services. Zimbabwe’s human poor (Poverty Assessment Study Survey, GoZ 1997) and cann capital is thus constrained by an inefficient economic structure, which underutilizes its people and degrades the quality of their life.

The growth of poverty, unemployment and income disparities in the face of the underutilization of substantial parts of Zimbabwe’s land and natural resources, despite the continued significant growth in commercial agricultural production and tourism, is the main factor which fuels today’s land debate. While historical grievances over land alienation are important, these tend to be subordinated to the more generalized demand for the redistribution of land for productive uses by a variety of potential and actual small and large scale indigenous land users. In the formal media, the most visible demands for land, contrary to widespread grassroots land bidding processes, are those of indigenous elites.

However, the demand by indigenous elites for large scale farms, such as those of some white owners whose size is not conducive to efficient land utilization, is not a primary factor in the land policy formulation because the economic rationality of this focus is questionable. The key objective of land reform policy is to establish a more efficient and rational structure of farming and land and natural resources utilisation. A rational land policy should not defend the interest of minority elite groups at the expense of optimal land utilisation, increased productivity, employment growth, improved income distribution, and environmentally sustainable use of resources. But this cannot mean that varied farm sizes including conceptually reformed notions of medium scale farms with varied efficient land uses, must be excluded from land redistribution.

The key issue facing Zimbabwe’s land reform policy therefore is how to balance the control and access to land, by redistributing land from large scale landholders who underutilise their land to new small and medium scale users. Such landholders include: individual large scale farmers whether white or black, large parastatal land holdings, large multinational firm landholders, large domestic conglomerates which specialize in mainly non-agricultural activities, and large private natural resource conservancies. The challenge here is how to „transfer peacefully" land from those who have been and remain unwilling and incapable of

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mobilizing adequate financial and labour resources towards the optimal use of land and natural resources at their command.

One key problem is that most of these landowners are not socially grounded in the land tenure value system of Zimbabweans and are remote from its mainstream party politics. The non-Zimbabwean nationalities and physical absence of many of the large landowners and the increasing use of stock holding land tenure arrangements for the control of land, especially in the growing eco-tourist industry, has increasingly globalised the fundamental interests of Zimbabwe’s land question. This has tended to make elusive the negotiated redistribution of land since Independence. The utilisation of a government led compulsory land acquisition and redistribution approach partly reflects the failure of all interested parties to redress Zimbabwe’s land problem.

The objectives of this analysis therefore, is to evaluate systematically the political economy of Zimbabwe’s emerging land policy. We assess government’s consistency in addressing the land question through an empirical evaluation of the outcome of its efforts to identify land to be acquired compulsorily. The criteria used to evaluate the policy direction are the GoZ’s own administratively set criteria namely: land underutilisation (including derelict land), multiple farm ownership, farmer absenteeism, proximity to communal areas, and oversized farms in relation to their agro-ecological potential. The paper in effect examines the socio-economic implications of the land that was gazetted for acquisition by assessing its quality, the extent of multiple farm ownership, the use of such land, the social features of the identified farms and the potential economic impact of acquiring this land.

2.0 Perceived economic impact of land transfer

Three extremely simplistic, crude and qualitatively weak frameworks of analysing the cost benefit of acquiring the 1471 listed farms have been led mainly by private sector and media interests while the GoZ officials, most independent policy analysts and donors remain mute (see Media sources, 1997). First, a general political and economic approach of listing a series of individual agro-economic and political process as expected to be the consequence of land transfers is offered. A commodity output loss approach (cropped area, volumes and values) has been attempted, using weak and vague quantitative methods. Finally, a macro-economic framework using broad quantitative estimates is proffered, again based upon weak information sources. Most assessments tend to be static and focused mostly on the psychological effects that tempering with property relations may have on markets or investors. Few assess the economic, social and political benefits which could be realised from the new farmers who gain access to the land, whether or not these are for own consumption („subsistence"). The debate has thus been only cost oriented and not benefit oriented. The net main losses predicted include rising unemployment, reduced GDP and deteriorating race relations and security while the socio-political result predicted is political and economic instability, white skills emigration and a slow down in the indigenous commercial farmer empowerment process. The main commodity losses anticipated focus on tobacco, cotton, horticulture, sugar, and maize while losses among field crops such as wheat and soyabeans are rarely cited. In fact, there is little expectation of major losses in food outputs or of increased food imports and thus food aid as a result of the land acquisition. The major fear is based on losses of exports.

Tobacco is expected to lose 50% output since purportedly 700 tobacco farmers’ lands were identified. This commodity alone accounts for 40% of Zimbabwe’s total exports, such that tobacco production losses from land acquisition is predicted to result in a 20% loss of foreign currency by 1999. In the sphere of tobacco, specialised skills ranging from nursing seedlings to

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varied agronomic, crop curing and marketing skills, as well as infrastructure required to handle the crop, were the main causes of losses expected. Small farmers are not expected to master such resources.

The value of outputs for cotton, maize and horticulture are all expected to decline by 50% by 1999 (CFU). But losses of maize and cotton are quite controversial since small farmers already produce 65% of the national totals. Moreover the land area required for horticulture is quite small such that producers can easily access such land. Contradictory reports arise around whether new planned investments in sugar production will be lost

Although some critics expect environmental damage to result from land transfers due to the growth of a phenomenon called „subsistence land husbandry", hardly any analysts suggest that wildlife resources or tourists markets would be lost from the land transfers. Presumably this reflects the relative „success" realised so far by the Communal Area Management for Indigenous Resources („Campfire") programme in managing such natural resources. Livestock resource losses are not particularly cited by critics perhaps because they are easily relocated among LSCF sector farms and because these can also be relatively easily reproduced by indigenous commercial and small scale farmers.

In general, the predicted quantitative and macro-economic losses expected to result from the land transfers are based upon weak sources and qualities of information used by the various stakeholders to dramatise losses. They suggest that Zimbabwe’s economy will decline by 50% in GDP terms and formal sector employment will decline by at least 15 % due to declines in agricultural and downstream jobs, while exports would lead to further current account deficits such that import cover could be reduced to even less than one month. By and large, the investment climate is expected to worsen since uncertainty among investors on property rights and the declining collateral value of land are predicted to rise. All this is expected to lead to an increased GoZ fiscal burden and deficit arising from farm purchases, resettlement and extension services.

One key problem with the above analyses is their tendency not to differentiate between the sources and effects of the problems that could arise from land acquisition. The varied effects of changes in rainfall, technology and irrigation on commodity production are for instance hardly considered. Moreover, the loss of agricultural output is not entirely novel to Zimbabwe, given that the agricultural sector has to regularly adapt to drought shocks. The LSCF has been the most successful in adapting to such shocks of weather and shifting land uses, (von Blackenburg, 1994).

Also only 46% of the 4500 LSCF farmers have irrigation facilities to stabilise crop production, although their numbers grew to this level mainly since the mid 1980s (von Blackenburg, 1994), due to subsidised state credit. Some estimates indicate, that only 180 000 hectares (30%) of the cropped area (FAO, 1990) is irrigated fully, while altogether 46 % of the LSCF farms may have access to full and supplementary watering using varied water sources to stabilise water availability from rainfall fluctuations. Farmers in natural region II alone are responsible for 56 % of Zimbabwe’s total irrigated land, while another 30 % of the irrigated area is found in natural region V among a few multi-national LSCF holdings which were not listed for acquisition. Thus, inconsistent representation of output trends is common in Zimbabwe even though the frequency of droughts requires more precise estimations of the scale and cause of crop losses.

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Another methodological problem which clouds the reliability of the above estimated crop losses is the fact that most such analyses do not separate the effects of on-going structured and erratic land use switching processes which occur among LSCF farmers because of the effects of droughts and markets of the land acquisition policy. In particular there is on-going reduction of LSCF areas devoted to maize and cotton production, such that small farmers supply 65% of these to markets in addition to feeding most of their 800,000 families located in communal and resettlement areas.

More LSCF maize is being used on farm for livestock feeds, raising other questions about the efficiencies of Zimbabwe’s livestock production system especially of allocating land and maize produced in Natural Regions I and II.

Furthermore there has been a switch among some LSCF farmers’ land use in prime and poorer natural regions from commercial beef production towards wildlife management (Moyo, 1998). The structural effects of improved returns to wildlife ranching vis-à-vis beef ranching, arising from the growth of tourism and sport hunting but not necessarily vis-à-vis the returns to the mixed farming system of Communal Areas in natural regions IV and V, can explain some of the output shifts away from maize and cotton, and may account for expected future shifts.

3.0 Actual Implications of acquiring the 1471 farms

The policy discussion on the economic implication of land acquisition has become misleading because the scale of land targeted has not been adequately conceptualised. The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) policy sought to acquire farms which it referred to as ‘too large’ depending upon their agro-ecological potential defined by their location among the five natural regions. Indeed, the economic aspects of the land policy hinge on the size of farms vis-à-vis land utilisation, multiple farms and absenteeism. No clear cut policy definition of the farm size variable is available besides a general suggestion floating in GoZ circles that 1500 hectares is the threshold size for viability in Natural Regions I and II.

Farm Sizes and Production Potential

A careful analysis of the relationship between farm numbers and land area identified shows that, as is typical of Zimbabwe and other countries with extremely unequal landholding structures, a handful of very large farms dominate the distribution of land ownership. There is an inverse relationship between farm size and area amongst farms in the LSCF. There tends to be a larger number of the LSCF sector farms found amongst relatively the smaller-sized farms (area-wise), while a few farms occupy extremely large expanses of land area.

For instance, 9 farms, that is less than 0.6% of the farms which range in size from 30 000 to 350 000 hectares account for up to 926 826 hectares or 23% of the area identified. And only 29 of the farms (2% of the number identified) account for 1.3 million hectares (33% of the total). Conversely, as many as 990 farms amounting to 67% of the identified farms, ranged in size from 1 to 1 499 hectares, and accounted for only 808 334 hectares or 20% of the total area identified. And, 227 of the farms identified (15%) were smaller than 500 hectares and accounted for only 68 559 hectares of the area identified.

Examining our farm size classifications, we found that two categories of farm size accounted for significantly large areas of the land identified. Farms between 1500 and 2 999 amounted to 259 or 18% of the farms and accounted for 571 631 hectares (14% of the area), while those between 5 000 up to 14 999 hectares were 121 (8%) and accounted for 978 373 hectares (25%). Yet 2.6 million hectares or 66% of the identified land area consisted of only 222 farms all being over 3000 hectares in size, and some of them reaching up to 350 000 hectares in size.

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Thus, a few large farms accounted for the bulk of the identified area, suggesting that the pace of acquisition could be managed according to the farm size and area relationship, and that it may be less cost effective to designate many small farms.

This pattern of concentrated land ownership by farm size reinforces our understanding that it is large farms which mainly underutilise land and their acquisition will have minimal effects on output levels in the LSCF. We know that only about 30% of the arable land (700 000 hectares) is cropped on average each year and that most of this area lies in natural regions I to III (Weiner, et al, 1984; Moyo, 1986 and 1995; Roth, 1992). Since the bulk of the large farms targeted for acquisition are in relatively less cropped natural regions, we can expect that the acquisition process will not affect production levels significantly. Indeed, as we saw from experience with about 3 million hectares from the LSCF during the 1980s, LSCF output in fact increased in volume and even value terms, in spite of the downward prices of some commodities(ibid.).

Agro-ecological Potential or Features

The quality of land being acquired in relation to scale is therefore a critical economic policy measure of the land policy’s efficacy. In this regard, the nature of agro-ecological potentials of the identified lands was a crucial variable in defining the future potential of resettlement or tenant schemes as well as in terms of gauging the broad potential effects of acquisition on current farm production activities.

This „naturalistic" feature of Zimbabwe’s agriculture whereby the broad pattern of natural regions define the relative quality of LSCF lands and production patterns, reflects the technological backwardness of the sector in general. Technological factors such as irrigation and greenhouses are highly concentrated among a few LSCF farmers as earlier pointed out. The dams are not movable assets which can be set up on a farm in any geographic or agro-ecological potential region. Hence less high value cropping is done in regions IV and V except among the huge multinational and state estates located in southern most Zimbabwe. These were not designated.

Our evidence shows that over 62% of the identified land was located in agro-ecological zones IV and V, amounting to 2.5 million hectares. Up to 80% of the land area identified was located between Natural Regions III and V.

As can be seen then, only about 704 of the identified farms were in Natural Regions I and II. These amounted in area to less than 805 732 hectares or below 20% of the area identified. It is these farms which need to be examined closely as their high potential, assuming it was being used, could be lost by acquisition per se, before we look at resettlement outputs potentials.

Agritex has recommended that Natural Regions IV and V be used mainly for livestock production such as cattle or game ranching and drought-resistant crops may be grown especially where there is no large scale irrigation. And Natural Region III is said to be suitable mainly for both livestock and cash crop production. Maize, tobacco and cotton are such crops that do fairly well. Indeed aggregate data on outputs in LSCF by natural region suggests that most of the 10 main commercial crops are not produced outside Natural Regions I and II, and that Natural Regions IV and V produce beef and wildlife products. This emphasises that the land identified is not the most productive.

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Clearly, the bulk of land being targeted for acquisition does not represent a significant base upon which Zimbabwe’s current agricultural production levels are dependent.

Land Tenure Pattern

About 6 land ownership categories were derived from the empirical evidence on identified farms, these include: individual or family farms; company farmlands; mining companies’ land; church farmlands; NGO farmlands (including trusteeships, associations, administrations, etc.), and state lands.

The company tenure accounted for 58% of the farms in number and 2 824 344 hectares (71% of area identified) compared to 39% individually owned (952 295 hectares, about 24 % of area identified) and 0.3% Government parastatal farms. No Government (Rural Lands Department) owned leasehold farms were identified as opposed to parastatal farm lands, as GoZ considers such land already available for redistribution or reallocation, especially to indigenous commercial farmers in its tenant farmer schemes (Interview).

Fig 1: Location of Identified Farms by Agro Ecological Regions

Church and NGO farms only accounted for 1.6%, although some of these institutions hold farms in company form and name.

Amongst the companies, 21 or 1.4% of the count were multinational farms accounting for 516 000 hectares or 13% of the land area identified. Meanwhile, two Government parastatals (NRZ and CSC), had amongst them 6 farms amounting to 91 002 hectares or 2.30% of the identified area. The features of the multinational forms of ownership, is discussed later.

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Multiple Farm Ownership Patterns

The issue of multiple ownership of farms can be used to determine farm management and land utilisation efficiencies. In Zimbabwe, there are extreme levels of land concentration in multiple farms that have constrained effective utilisation of land and efficient farm management.

This data, however, excludes a large number of multiple-owned farms belonging to owners who do not appear on the identification list. Nor does this tell us about additional farms that the listed farmers own whether they are listed as owning one or more farms in this identification list. This is to say there is much more multiple-owned farmland which did not necessarily appear on the current identified list.

Some of the key features arising from the multiple-owned farms are:

  • 3 of the multiple-owned farms alone accounted for 757 763 hectares.
  • farms ranging in size from 30 000 to over 100 000 hectares accounted for about 1 million hectares or 25% of all the identified area.
  • There are 114 relatively small farms of below 3 000 hectares in size which are multiple-owned, accounting for only just below 195 000 hectares. That is 50% of the farm counts of identified farms were multiple.
  • Farms of between 5 000 to 29 999 hectares in size are 30% in number and up to 650 000 hectares in area.
  • Instead of 1471 owners, we have 1103 owners only due to multiple owning. About 178 owners had between 2-3 farms each while 33 owned over 4 farms each.

The bulk of the multiple-owned farms identified accounting for 63% of the farms and 30% of the area are company farms, while 37% of the number and 700 000 hectares (18% of the entire area) belong to multinational firms. The balance of 900 farms accounting for 2.06 million hectares (52% of area identified) to parastatals and farms are individually owned.

About 25 farm owners were found to account for over 101 farms in number (7% of the total) and 1 295 938 hectares or 33% of the total area identified. Whilst about 10 indigenous farm owners each owned multiple farms which accounted for 34 of the multiple farms and 836 188 hectares 21 % of their area.

The land tenure evidence shows a diverse and differentiated structure of landholding and landuse among Zimbabwe’s white population. On the one hand we have a few white-dominated large companies – some of which are large multinational companies with strong South African connections – owning the greater part of Zimbabwe’s commercial farmlands, which are relatively underutilised. On the other hand, we have a combination of 1000 white-owned family farms and family-based companies each owning farms that are relatively small, though large by international standards, as well as a few large companies with relatively large farm areas who use their land relatively adequately. The debate on compulsory land acquisition should be more nuanced and qualified in its assessment of the land targeted for acquisition, rather than refer to them simply and erroneously as „white farms".

But this pattern of land acquisition also suggests that future resettlement would be concentrated on land less suitable for rainfed crop production unless the new government policy will entail heavy investment in irrigation on resettlement schemes.

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4.0 THE SOCIAL implications of land transfer

Does the recent land identification exercise contribute to the stated social objectives of land reform? To answer this, we examined the land identified in terms of its location, its provincial distribution, the geography, race, gender, tenure, nationality and wider political considerations? Furthermore this analysis of the farms listed points towards some of the social and political parameters which would influence the eventual nature of the land redistribution programme possible?

Uneven Acquisition Pattern

Land acquisition has to date been unevenly focused on five provinces. Between 1980 and 1996, most of the land was acquired from Midlands (18.63%), Matebeleland South (16.79%), Mashonaland West (16.02%), Manicaland (15.8%) and Masvingo (12.45%). In the recent land identification exercise, Masvingo and Matebeleland South each accounted for 22% of the land identified, followed by Midlands (19%), Mashonaland West (13 %), and Mashonaland East (8%). This means that Mashonaland Central, Matebeleland North and Mashonaland East have been areas least targeted for land acquisition.

Of the country’s 55 Rural District Councils, 44 districts had land identified. This gives an average of five districts affected in each province. But only 25, or close to half of the country’s districts, accounted for 83% of farms and 90% of the total areas identified. Just 10 districts accounted for 63% (2.5m. ha.) of the area identified, while the bottom 10 accounted for less than 3% of the area. Interestingly, three districts, – Mwenezi, Mberengwa and Gwanda – accounted for more than 30% of all land identified.

Not surprisingly, some areas with large extensive farm areas and high levels of underused land, such as Mwenezi, ranked highest among identified areas. But surprisingly, prime lands with historically low levels of land utilisation – such as Shamva and Hwedza – were spared intensive land acquisition.

Communal Area Borders

One of the key criteria used to justify the listing of farms was their proximity to communal areas. This is interpreted to apply to those communal areas facing severe land pressure and landlessness. Originally this criterion was intended to reduce the costs of moving settlers, to expand the land available to local communities or provide „elbow room" (Cliffe, 1987), and avoid bringing in „strangers". While these reasons bear on the efficiency of resettlement, the chief rationale for land reform accepted by most stakeholders has more to do with the principle of bringing to an end the underutilisation of land.

Proximity to communal areas is a problematic concept, since all commercial farms are brought closer to these areas once the farms between them and the nearest communal area are identified. Government officials in fact recognise that this criterion poses a problem of shifting boundaries and can be used during one phase of land acquisition only, if it is not to become a tautological criterion for the acquisition of land.

But even with the objective to create „elbow room" for communal area communities, the criterion is still parochial and controversial since it implies discrimination and the exclusion of ‘outsiders’ from a particular area, district or province. Differential land acquisition patterns by district and province would mean that productive persons from some districts would never gain access to land. Similarly, undeserving persons in other districts might gain far easier access. Since about 46% of the land area identified for purchase is less than 10 kilometres away from

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communal areas, the selection of settlers primarily from such areas would lead to land redistribution being unevenly allocated.

LSCF Land Tenure and Ownership Structure

It is possible to identify six land ownership categories among farms listed for acquisition. These are individual or family farms, company farmlands, land held by mining companies, church farmlands, NGO lands, and state lands. Companies accounted for 58% of farms listed, representing more than 2.8 million hectares, or 71% of the land identified. This compares with 24% of the land held by individuals. Government parastatals accounted for less than 2.3% of farms, while churches and NGOs together accounted for 1.6% of farms.

Of the 1471 farms listed, 21 are owned by multinational firms, which account for 516 000 hectares of land amounting to 13% of the total identified. Two others are owned by the National Railways of Zimbabwe and the Cold Storage Commission. Zimbabwe’s inequitable agrarian structure is reflected in this pattern of large company-owned estate lands, and the land identification outcome thus demonstrates a concern with achieving equity.

Zimbabwe’s Landed Gentry

Using the cut-off point of over 10 000 hectares owned either through company or individual title and as single or multiple farms, 66 landowners occupying 2 108 972 hectares were identified as critical to negotiations for land transfer These persons own 158 farms of which 38 % of the area is owned as multiple company farms, while 13 %, 1.3% and 2.5% are respectively owned as single company farms, individuals’ multiple farms and individuals’ single farms.

We see that less than 20 directors associated with Anglo-American Corporation for instance own 18 farms under 4 companies amounting to half a million hectares. Other key companies owning large tracts of land include: Zimasco, Lonrho, and Development Trust of Zimbabwe (DTZ).

Among those owning over 10 000 hectares, we found 8 individuals among the targeted farms who together owned 13 farms occupying 158 531 hectares, of which 29% of the area was owned as multiple farms. Thus only 5 persons who owned over 10 000 hectares owned these as single farms amounting to 112 537 hectares. Multiple farm ownership is thus a decided feature of Zimbabwe’s landed gentry, whether these are company or individually owned.

There were black companies which held 5 farms of close to 17 000 hectares features in our area based on the definition of the landed gentry. Casual empirical observation suggests that there could be up to 10 more black owners of over 10 000 hectares among those whose land was not designated. Otherwise the one large black owned estate is the three farms of Nuanetsi Ranches owned by the DTZ Trust led by J. Nkomo, three other living black and one white director .

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Table 2:

Ownership Structure of Large amongst identified farms (above 10 000ha)

Many of the large company owners are in fact very long established involved mainly in the mining sector and other non-farming activities. Ten families including the Oppenheimers, Meikles, Shawls, Skinners, Dyers, Guthries, Therons, Styles, Whealers and Machipisas are the most notable of Zimbabwe’s landed gentry.

Only 20 wholly owned black landholding companies were among those targeted for land acquisition. Five of these farms had multiple farms, while the 28 farms owned by the 20 firms occupied about 57 000 hectares only or about 2% of the entire company owned land. More blacks own land in their individual title.

Sex Distribution of Land Ownership

Over 87% of the registered land owners are male, while about 23% of the farms were jointly owned and less than 5% were owned outright by women.

Less than 29% of the directors of these farms were women. Overall, fewer black women (below 6%) owned the identified land in area terms compared to their white counterparts, who were mostly registered as joint husband and wife owners. Thus, land transfer negotiations will mainly have to be held with white males who almost exclusively dominate the company directorships and individual titles of landholdings above 10 000 hectares in size.

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Table 3:

Estimated Race, Sex and Nationality Features of Identified Farm Owners

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Patriarchal land tenure value systems among both the white and black community have thus consistently discriminated against women land owners. In principle therefore, more women need to be provided access to the redistributed land in order to evolve greater gender balance in land ownership, the agrarian structure and in the society at large.

Absentee landlords

The evidence on the nationality of owners is as yet inadequately quantified. However, there are many companies identified whose directors were registered foreigners. Most foreign owners appear to be British and South African. This could explain the uncritical preoccupation of the press in these two countries with Zimbabwe’s land reform programme. Indeed, through dual citizenship, it is estimated that between 15 000 to 30 000 white Zimbabweans are British (House of Lords, Hansard) Thus, Britain’s current attitude to supporting land reform is obviously influenced by these interests. The extent to which foreign ownership was emphasised as a criterion must await further analysis of the ownership data.

Nationality can be a crude measure of „absentee" ownership. In turn, absenteeism is often seen as a reflection of limited commitment to farming. Absentee owners rely on farm managers supervised from afar. In Zimbabwe, absenteeism has a particular significance because the local land tenure context differs from those countries where land redistribution amounted mainly to the withdrawal and reallocation of land property rights from landlords to those tenants who had been renting or using such lands.

Here, absenteeism affirms the fact that a significant number of farm managers are actually blacks whose skills are not appropriately recognised. Black managers are often classified as „supervisors" and „semi-skilled" and receive lower wages than their jobs warrant. But because about 40% of farm management and technical skills are indigenous, according to survey evidence, it could be argued that since LSCF are essentially black managed, the transfer of land ownership towards such farmers will not have negative effects.

The question of absenteeism on indigenously-owned LSCF and small-scale commercial farms (SSCF) is contentious. Many absentee black farmers are urban based business persons or professionals in the public and private sector. Some argue that many white-owned company farms are similarly owned by persons in urban areas. Others argue that absenteeism is a relative concept and must be applied in a qualified manner. Land owners who are resident in Zimbabwe, who hire farm managers, but regularly commute to communicate with them, or even the so-called „telephone farmers", are considered by some not to be absent in essence.

Race, Nationality and Indigenisation

Achieving an equitable balance in the racial and national origins of land ownership has been a key political objective of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme.

While the definition of who is „indigenous" remains contentious, some members of minority groups who are Zimbabwean citizens by birth or naturalisation regard themselves as being indigenous in contradistinction to foreign companies owning large estates. But though Zimbabwean citizens, the limited social integration of most white LSCF owners into the social and political organisations of black communities renders them relatively isolated. This isolation tends to determine their conceptual disqualification as indigenous persons.

Just under 250 black indigenous LSCF owners, comprising about 17% of the listed owners, had their farms targeted by the provincial land identification committees. These were mainly smaller sized farms of less than 3000 hectares. But together with the larger black-owned farms, they amounted to about 20% of the total area identified. However, less than 10% of the total

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LSCF sector is in fact owned by black indigenous persons. Thus, the indigenously owned land identified for purchase may be regarded as having been disproportionately targeted.

The view now emerging within the government is that the acquisition of black-owned farms at this stage defeats the objective of indigenisation. One unsubstantiated view, which seems exaggerated, is that many black-held LSCFs are underutilised and more of them should have been targeted. Indeed there are some multiple-ownership farms held by blacks which are reported to have been spared by the identification exercise for unclear reasons.

But some ‘indigenously-owned’ farms may actually have deserved to be targeted because their farms are extremely large and comprise parts of huge multiple estates. For instance, 26 farms owned by just six companies, which had black directors or owners, held about 1.3 million hectares, or 33% of the land identified for acquisition. Three of these farms amounting to 317 000 hectares were owned in trust by a firm which purports to promote indigenous development in general.

The evidence suggests that many of the black directors may in fact be minority shareholders in these companies. The transfer of such oversized estates would not be inconsistent with the indigenisation objectives of Zimbabwe’s land policy.

Ethno-Regionalism and Land Reform

It is quite puzzling that about 100 small farms located in Natural Regions 2 and 3 and owned by indigenous persons should also be targeted, since these have the potential to be productively used and reflect a desirable move towards medium scale farms! Ethnic discrimination, cliquism and the machinations of elites are believed to have influenced this otherwise enigmatic outcome of indigenous farms targeted. The growing discourses around excluding „strangers" and of resettling near own communal areas reflects growing ethno-regionalism in Zimbabwe’s land policy.

To illustrate: people believe that the manner in which some indigenous people’s farms were listed for acquisition was parochial, for instance in some Mashonaland provinces. They expect that certain people who are considered not to "belong" to those provinces may be excluded from accessing prime lands there. Still others believe that the land acquired may be targeted mainly at large indigenous farmers rather than the needy, poor and economically efficient small farmers.

In particular the manner in which elites, such as those working in government, some ex-combatants and other key ruling party supporters will gain access to land, in what proportion and at what cost to them, is a matter of widespread public conjecture and speculation. Fear of discrimination and exclusive tendencies in land redistribution and the wider indigenisation policy process heavily shadow the decision makers in charge of land reform. Suggestions that there in corrupt practices in elite land schemes against in the past are now inveighed against the land reform programme by many.

5.0 Moving forward with land reform policy making

Credibility of the Policy Process

The land reform programme can achieve its desired social, economic and political objectives if the redistribution exercise is planned properly. The major challenge for the current land policy is to improve the credibility and efficacy of the government’s approach to land reform.

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A key issue is that the government has tended to rationalise land acquisition and redistribution on the basis of historical grievances and political demands, which in their own right are legitimate, over and above the actually existing valid economic rationale for land reform. Indeed, some public statements on land acquisition have tended to imply that there are no sound economic objectives underlying the policy and that there are no valid economic and even market instruments for land redistribution which could be used together with compulsory land acquisition.

At times the government’s posture has appeared not to provide room for negotiation, when in fact negotiations and trade-offs with stakeholders are underway. This has alienated the less informed international community and important segments of the Zimbabwean public. But recent offers of land by commercial farmers is testimony of an evolving dialogue which needs to be strengthened.

Because of the poor supply of objective information by government and private sector stakeholders alike, rumour and subjective interest rather than facts have led strategic policy thinking. Thus, the credibility of land reform is affected by the absence of a transparent plan and policy dialogue process which is necessary to counteract attempts to sensationalise the perceived relative costs and benefits of land acquisition.

Economic Rationale and Goals of Land Reform

Inequitable access to resources means that the imbalanced income distribution structure of the Zimbabwean economy continues to undermine the growth of rural incomes and restricts the expansion of domestic markets and industrial development. The majority of Zimbabweans will continue to depend on land for their survival because the slow industrialisation process and the incessantly growing poverty and unemployment cannot be overcome in the next two decades. The key objective of the land reform policy must be to enhance economic expansion and diversification through expanding inputs from a more efficient and rational structure of farming and land resource utilisation.

Such a land policy can not depend on the narrow consumption interests and limited effective demand of white or black minority elite groups. Optimal land utilisation, increased productivity, employment growth, improved income distribution, and environmentally sustainable uses of resources all inter-related and fundamental material components of a poverty elimination strategy in the primary exports-led economy of countries such as Zimbabwe. The transfer of land should thus not be focused on simplistic and emotive processes of off-loading underused marginal lands to the poor and small farmers by either the government or large farmers as a means of extracting new forms of financial and political capital. The issue is to evolve a comprehensive socio-economic development strategy in which land reform is central.


Land redistribution must be directed at an appropriate range of beneficiaries who will have to follow land use, outputs, income and employment targets established in relation to clear goals, and the quality of land and related resources allocated to them. But it is necessary to be strategic in conceptualising the goals. For instance, simplistic welfarist approaches to addressing poverty could turn out to be self defeating.

The land redistribution policy and plans must be more adequately detailed in terms of numbers of different types of beneficiaries to be allocated different types of lands. Those limited plans

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as exist need to be more adequately coordinated among the relevant implementing agencies. The public need to be fully informed about these plans and assured about the fairness and equitable nature of the redistribution.

Government must be explicit in indicating how some of those formerly excluded from land redistribution programmes will be catered for in the land redistribution process. This includes the urban poor in need of residential land, as well as Zimbabwean and non-Zimbabwean retrenched farmworkers.

Public speculation about who will benefit from land reform is currently focused on negative images of unskilled and unproductive indigenous farmers using political patronage to access land, or on the ecologically abusive, poor, black, subsistence tiller, whose real calling is not farming. But such speculation cannot form a real basis for objective analysis of the desired structure of land redistribution.

There is need to clarify matters by specifying how much land various types of beneficiaries will gain access to within the framework of the various types of land settlement schemes proposed by government. In this regard there is a need to specify how many people from the following specific potential target groups of land redistribution will gain access to how much land in terms of the different quality of land available for redistribution:

  • The rural poor (including the rural land-short, landless and destitute, retrenched farm workers, hamlets for farmworkers and poor ex-combatants)

  • Competent small farmers, including those with master farmer certificates, other surplus producers, existing and potential peri-urban I intensive plot farmers, and ex- combatants who meet the competency criterion;

  • Medium Scale Commercial Farmers, including agricultural graduates, experienced farm managers, local investors in land-based enterprises, and ex-combatants who meet the criteria;

  • Urban residential requirements, including homeless and destitutes, those on housing waiting lists, future families, and rural centre and growth points residences.

Independent Land Commission

In essence a land reform plan needs to be developed preferably through an independent land commission which is publicly accountable, using experts from relevant government ministries, farmers organisations, NGOs, and academia. This commission should systematically identify the various land uses, inputs, and infrastructure required to achieve specified objectives of the plan, in consultation with all stakeholders, and identify the precise land and resource allocations required by each of the redistribution schemes and beneficiary groups. The commission would mobilise resources to strengthen the capacity of key implementing agencies including the land acquisition and management agencies, the local authorities and land redistribution departments of government, as well as NGOs working to mobilise community participation in the programme. The following action plan must be pursued by the Commission:

  • identify and acquire the right farms
  • develop land reform plan
  • involve stakeholders/people
  • identify right land uses
  • identify investments needed

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  • selection of regional spread of beneficiaries
  • identify beneficiaries
  • mobilise, strengthen capacity and resources of support agencies/systems
  • select beneficiaries
  • settle beneficiaries and,
  • holding land for the future.

Phased Acquisition of 5 million Hectares

Most importantly, the land reform plan should be phased over the next five to 10 years. During the first five years, a phased acquisition of the targeted 5 million hectares should be undertaken beginning with half of this land (2.5 million hectares) between 1998 and 1999 and the other half between 2000 and 2001.

The land acquisition policy may reconsider what is to be done with about 30 % of the land area that has so far been targeted in order to encourage these productive farmers to increase their present levels of productivity. The legal provision for objections to be considered by government provides scope for such review. There is room to encourage an improvement in the level of land utilisation in these farms, as well as to promote the downsizing of those productive farms located in NRs 1 and 2 towards an average size of 500-1000 hectares in place of the current average of 1500-3000 hectares. The remaining balance of the 5 million hectares could then be identified.

The government should also expedite the implementation of its present land policy formulation exercise in order that it can complement the compulsory land acquisition instrument with market-related land transfer mechanisms intended to rationalise land holding and land use structures. Appropriate instruments such as land taxation, improved land sub-division procedures and incentives, and income and investment tax incentives which can promote more intensive land use and skills development in the agricultural sector are required. Furthermore, an investment plan for improved infrastructure for irrigation, transportation and communication will be necessary to optimise land use efficiencies among small to medium scale farmers throughout the country.

The adoption of appropriate land taxation, land sub-division and farm income tax policies could be the most effective instruments for promoting more rational and efficient land use and farm sizes in these 30% of the land area, and the redistribution of subdivided farms within them. This would increase the number of small to medium scale farmers, intensify land use and enlarge the strategy of land redistribution.


Alexander, J. 1995. The Unsettled Land: The Politics of Land Distribution in Matabeleland, 1980-1990, Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 17 (4), Oxford University Press, 1991.

Cliffe, 1988. Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Success and Food Security, In Review of African Political Economy, No.43. 1988

GoZ, 1990, Constitutional Amendment of the Land Policy, Hansard/Government Gazette.

GoZ. 1992. Land Acquisition Act. Harare: Government Printers, Harare.

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GoZ. 1996. Land Redistribution and Resettlement, Policy paper..

Land Tenure Commission (LTC) 1994. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Appropriate Land Tenure Systems, Government Printers, Harare.

Moyo, S. 1986. The Land Question. In: Mandaza, I (Ed.) Zimbabwe: The Political Economy of Transition, 1980-1986, CODESRIA, Dakar.

Moyo, S. 1995. The Land Question in Zimbabwe. SAPES Books, Harare.

Moyo, S. 1997. Land Reform or Political Posturing?, The Mirror Vol. 1 (1), December 1-7, 1997.

Moyo, S. 1998. Land Acquisition will not Lower Productivity, The Mirror Vol.1 (7), 19 - 25 January, 1998.

Moyo, S. 1998. Land Acquisition: The Social and Political Context, The Mirror Vol. 1 (8), 26 Jan - 1 Feb., 1998.

Moyo, S., 1998. The Framework for the Design of Land Reform, The Mirror Vol. 1(9), 2-5 February, 1998.

Moyo, S., 1998. (forthcoming) The Land Acquisition Process in Zimbabwe-1997/8: Socio-Economic and Political Impacts, SAPES Policy Monograph Series, No.1.

Moyo, S., 1997. Land Reform under Structural Adjustment in Zimbabwe: Land Use Change in the Mashonaland Provinces

Moyo, S. 1998. Zimbabwe’s New Land Reform Debate: ESAP, Land Policy and Land Markets.

ODA. 1996. Appraisal Mission Report.

Palmer, R. 1996. Book Review of The Land Question in Zimbabwe - Sam Moyo, Development in Practice, Vol. 6 (4), November 1996.

Potts, D. and Mutambirwa, C. 1997. The Government Must Not Dictate Rural-urban Migrants’ Perceptions of Zimbabwe’s Land Resettlement Programme, Review of African Political Economy No.74:549-566, ROAPE Publications Ltd.

Roth, 1992.


Local Media Sources

Kangai, Financial Gazette, Januuary 29, 1998.

Kangai, The Herald, Nov. 1996.

Ken Mufuka, The Sunday Mail, American express article, Jan/Feb 1998.

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International Media Sources

L. Duke, Mugabe’s Grip Slips Further, Washington Post .

The Associated Press, Zimbabwe’s White Farmers Offer Redistribution Plan: They would sell land to State and Aid Peasants, World Tribune, January 24-25, 1998.

Populism Awry, The Economist, January 24, 1998

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

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

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