[page number of print ed.: 78]



Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980 and since then not much progress has been made in terms of addressing the burning question of the racially skewed land redistribution. While the first ten years of independence saw the government operating within the parameters of a very restrictive Lancaster House Constitution, subsequent years did not see an acceleration of the land re-distribution process due to the changed macro-economic conditions and globalisation of the economy. The years after the expiry of the Lancaster House Constitution coincided with the government’s preparation for the launch of the first phase of the economic reform program and one can confidently say that the land issue was then relegated to the background.

The originally envisaged targets for resettlement were not met for a variety of reasons.These included the lack of development finance and funding for land acquisition. The quest for more and better land among the people continued unabated thereby creating a very large gap between supply and demand. The macro-economic policies of the government failed to make the land re-distribution program a center piece on the basis of which a successful economic reform program could be launched. The disparities created by the lack of focus on the land question made the political imperative that much more urgent and a „tail wagging its dog" situation was created. Planning could no longer be undertaken in the normal pro-active manner but only in response to a crisis. This state of affairs partly explains the somewhat unclear and seemingly panicky situation now obtaining in the land sector.

This paper makes a diagnosis of the land redistribution program to date. It highlights some of the pitfalls and finally makes proposals as to how the social and economic criteria can be balanced. The paper draws extensively on the experience of the writer and some of the statements may conflict with what are normally regarded as official positions. This paper is therefore written from a personal point of view and all opinions expressed are those of the author.


At independence, the government set itself a target to resettle 162 000 families in three years. This target has been elusive to date. Part of the problem is that the government had no capacity to undertake a program of that magnitude in the indicated time frame. There was an attempt to provide a complete package and although an attempt to embark on an accelerated resettlement program was made, this did not receive the support of the donors who preferred the comprehensive intensive resettlement program.

The resettlement program was initially targeted at placing people on the land on a dryland basis. Irrigation did not constitute part of the programme and hence even those properties which had some irrigation infrastructure were settled on a dryland basis. This significantly negated some of the economic benefits that could be gained from irrigation. The major reason behind this was that the thrust of the resettlement program then was geared towards satisfying

[page number of print ed.: 79]

the social land redistribution. There was the inherent assumption that the economic appeals would automatically fall into place once the land was made available. However, this did not happen because the financial needs of the program were not taken into account and the settlers were left to fend for themselves. The resettlement credit scheme was a commendable innovation which should have been sustained. The lack of finance to purchase inputs and develop further the infrastructure in the resettlement areas, resulted in the decline of the natural resource base of these areas to a point were they now resemble the communal lands. The main reasons for these developments can be found in the following:

  • The resettlement program was a social program with no economic objectives.

  • There was no attempt to ensure that the level of production in the resettlement areas would be maintained and sustained in terms of the potential of these areas as assessed by the technocrats.

  • There were no enforcement procedures to preserve the environment and protect it from wanton destruction by the settlers. While one cannot blame the settlers for the massive deforestation which took place in these areas because there were no alternative sources of energy, one cannot understand why the current laws could not be applied to make sure that environmental degradation was minimized.

  • The overwhelming political influence in the resettlement areas mitigated against any conservation thrust just as the liberation war doctrines condemned the conservation movement as oppressive and advised the rural folk to ignore any requirements for contour ridges in arable lands, ignore the need for preserving forest cover and refrain from stream bank cultivation. It is these attitudes which were largely of a social disposition that have resulted in the fast deterioration of the resource base in the resettlement areas.

  • The lack of a local authority in resettlement areas provided a perfect opportunity for lawlessness and plunder of natural resources. While the government was bickering about who should be in control in these new areas, the process took so long that by the time the Rural District Councils Act was passed to effect a unitary local government system to include the resettlement areas, irreversible damage had already been done. Resettlement areas went for a long time without a local authority system and that provided a perfect opportunity for the breakdown of the social fabric in these areas. Thus, the resettlement areas resembled some no man’s land where the government had poured huge resources with the assistance of donors only for the beneficiaries to be left on their own to do as they wished. One therefore wonders whether the objective of land redistribution could be understood in any better light than the picture painted above.

  • The government concentrated in the provision of social infrastructure such as schools, clinics and growth points without considering the necessity to develop further the resettled persons and provide them with the necessary tools to sustain themselves economically. This oversight partly explains why there is no apparent balance between the social and economic criteria in the resettlement program so far.

In summary, the resettlement program of yester year suffered from too many shortcomings, it was not properly planned, it was not adequately funded, it lacked an economic focus, it created a dependence syndrome on the part of the beneficiaries who are now accustomed to having

[page number of print ed.: 80]

things done for them by government. The program was very ambitious and yet lacked the requisite inputs for that ambition to be realized. Experiences from other countries such as Malaysia indicate that, had we balanced the economic and social criteria of the resettlement program, the benefits would have been much better. It is therefore important to consider aspects of economic and social significance equally if the land redistribution effort is to be sustainable. The losses of the previous land redistribution program should be recouped through a well calculated balance between the economic and social criteria. It is not too late to revisit the established resettlement schemes and plan them on a more sustainable basis.


Land is a finite resource and there can never be a situation where everyone has access to it. It is therefore important that those who will benefit from a land redistribution program should have an economic focus intended to sustain the activities of those who may not have direct access to land. If this principle is to be accepted, then the land redistribution program must be an economic one with lesser emphasis on the social criteria. The Government of Zimbabwe must realize that the land redistribution program in its current form is benefiting a very small proportion of the target population. The majority of the target may not even realize the fruits of the land redistribution program if it continues in its current form. There is need to review the following parameters :-

  • Land allocation per family for both grazing and arable purposes

  • Settler selection criteria to emphasize the economic objective

  • Resettlement models should be reviewed to include those based on economic criteria.

  • Funding or lines of credit at sustainable rates should be established to allow the new settlers to make a meaningful start to their farming operations

  • The government should set up special schemes to monitor the progress of the settlers and those not living up to the set economic criteria should be replaced

  • Government should examine the possibility of granting title deeds to settlers in special schemes at the earliest opportunity to provide for the immediate identification and ownership of land to promote investment.

  • There should be lesser political intervention once the people have been settled.

  • In special schemes, the provision of infrastructure should be facilitated by the early granting of title deeds. Although the current resettlement program included a small element of loans from the Ministry of Local Government and National Housing, this facility was poorly managed and subject to abuse. It is necessary that government should put a strong monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance with the provisions of such schemes.

  • The capacity of government to implement all forms of land redistribution should be boosted. This includes capacity for technical demarcation through both Agritex and the Department of the surveyor General, the physical development capacity of DDF, the planning and replanning capacity of ARDA and Agritex as well as the capacity to provide financial packages aimed at sustaining the land redistribution effort. It is noted, however, that the capacity which once existed in government is no longer there in both numbers and quality. It maybe necessary for the government to involve the private sector in boosting the capacity to handle an expanded program of land re-distribution.


So far there are no clear indications as to how far the resettlement program has maintained the production potential in the resettlement areas. While conceding the fact that some of the land

[page number of print ed.: 81]

on which people were resettled was marginal to normal cropping, there has been no attempt to steer the settlers towards the appropriate mode of production in order to realize the full potential of the land. The question now is how far can the government influence the change in mindset of the settlers by moving them away from the unsuitable cropping patterns towards those of a more economic nature for sustainability. While one can read great resistance on the part of the settlers, such resistance is not without foundation.

The next phase of the land redistribution program should lay down conditions aimed at enhancing the economic contribution of the settlers. This is obviously going to be difficult as the previous resettlement program had no conditions of an economic nature and concentrated on the social aspects.

As more and more land is acquired for resettlement, there is need to ensure that the production in total terms continues to improve in order to meet the needs of a growing urban population. While it maybe argued that the land redistribution program does not have a marked effect in total productivity, this may only be in the short term. The long term effect of a land redistribution program should be assessed to avoid a situation where Zimbabwe transforms itself from a net exporter of basic staple food to a net importer. The result of such assessment should enable corrective measures to be taken to stave off this possible long term eventuality. This is not to suggest that the land redistribution program should be abandoned at some stage. It is merely to suggest and strongly recommend an emphasis of the economic criteria for the land redistribution from now onwards.

The government has been slow in responding to the land needs of qualified and experienced people who were either trained in agriculture or had a genuine passion for land. It is high time that a special program to avail land to such people is put in place. The present effort in the form of the Commercial Small Farm Settlement Scheme is commendable, but more needs t be done to make the effort sustainable. There is need, for example, to provide access to the farmers in these schemes with affordable credit to allow them to develop infrastructure and produce decent crops. It is noted with satisfaction that there was an attempt to select people with a passion for the land. The demand for this type of resettlement will obviously be on the increase and the government should ensure that this type of land redistribution is further promoted. With the right economic instruments in place, this type of land redistribution is likely to stave off the fears of a decline in total production which are currently being expressed. The question, however, is whether the government sees this form of land redistribution targeted at the well to do affluent technocrats as a better form of land redistribution to the one that favors the povo, the rural power base and the political activists. The balance must therefore be struck between a program with an economic appeal and potential to maintain the productive potential, and one with a largely social appeal but with a potential to erode the productive potential. The choices are very clear given the performance of the current resettlement program. There is need to garnish the promises of the liberation war with appropriate economic criteria if the very heritage that we all fought for is to benefit us and the generations to come.

One of the fundamental questions to be asked is whether the land redistribution program is benefitting the right people. While the previous resettlement program was largely socially biased, one can conclude that the major beneficiaries were people that needed access to land in order to fend for themselves and their families, hence the program biased its settler selection to satisfy the social needs of the landless. However if one considers that there are approximately one million two hundred thousand farm families in the communal lands and that the resettlement program was to benefit only 162 000, ( only 13.5 %) it becomes clear, given the

[page number of print ed.: 82]

shortcomings of the resettlement program that there must be a shift from the largely social bias towards a more economic bias. As the target of 162 000 families has not yet been reached, it means that the land redistribution effort to date has benefitted less than 10% of the target. There is need for a radical change in the manner in which the social and economic criteria is balanced in future land redistribution programs. A bias towards the economic criteria is imperative. In this way the land redistribution will have benefit not only those to whom land is actually allocated, but the nation as a whole in that the production potential is not only maintained, but also improved on a sustainable basis.

Zimbabwe can ill afford to allow its production base to decline as the alternatives will mean huge import bills and high prices of basic commodities (much higher than has been experienced recently). The land redistribution program holds the key to the future sustenance of Zimbabwe therefore it needs to be handled properly if sustainability is to be attained. The diversity of land holding that currently exists should be maintained but with smaller units of land than is currently the case. The necessary incentives should be given in a deliberate effort to make sure that the mistakes of the land redistribution program so far do not haunt us to our graves. The extent to which Zimbabwe can bail itself out of this potential quagmire is to be found in radical changes in the political policies with respect to land redistribution. The technical answers are there, what is required is a change in mindset realising that the situation that obtained in 1980 is markedly different from that which exists now. The economic dictates brought about by the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) and the imminent Zimbabwe Program for Economic and Social Transformation (ZIMPREST) should be fully integrated into the land redistribution program.


Zimbabwe does not have much of a choice in terms of the need to bias the land redistribution program towards economic criteria. This is an imperative which holds the key to the future success of the country. It is hoped that the next phase of the land redistribution program will enable the country to put its money where its mouth will be rather than putting its money where its votes are. Striking this rather delicate balance needs a lot of will which does not seem to be available at this point in time. Only time will tell.

[page number of print ed.: 83]


The three presentations (GAPWUZ, CCJP and Mr Pazvakavambwa), attracted many questions and comments from the floor. Some of the key issues raised were:

a) Mr Auret was asked to propose a different type of institutional arrangement to manage the land reform effort.

b) A participant suggested that those who have been displaced by successive resettlements (from colonial era to the 1980s and now possibly under the current land redistribution exercise) should be paid compensation. He noted that current arrangements for the payment of compensation as per the Land Acquisition Act of 1992 seemed to focus solely on white commercial farmers and the few indigenous black farmers whose farms were listed for possible acquisition. He argued that the mass of communal area peasant farmers also need to be compensated for the fact that for years since colonialism, their land has been taken away from them. The speaker emphasised that unless this was done, there was a danger that the land issue could be explosive.

c) A participant welcomed the land redistribution exercise, as a tool to remove all vestiges of colonialism. He however cautioned the Minister about the danger of rushing into land redistribution without any analysis of the economic impact of such a move.

d) The CCJP was asked why it had lost the radicalism with which it had fought colonial regimes. This was in response to the perceived cautioned approach to the land redistribution effort as it was presented in Mr Auret’s reflections.

e) GAPWUZ was asked to comment on the land resettlement programme and how it was of benefit to them and their thoughts on the transparency of the Government handling of the land issue.

f) A participant appealed to the forum to ‘look for reason rather than race’ in dealing with the land issue. He pointed out that Zimbabwe was in danger of making the land issue a race issue. There was no reason in his view, why a large number of people should work on the land. He cited the example of the United States of America where he said, only about 5% of the population worked on the land as farmers and yet they supplied the whole nation with the required agricultural produce. Zimbabwe should learn from America and Japan, Countries which have moved from agricultural-based to industrial based economies.

[page number of print ed.: 84]


The President of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES), Mr K Mafukidze, closed the seminar. He thanked the Minister of Lands and Agriculture, Hon. Minister Kangai and his deputy, Dr O Muchena for sparing time to attend the seminar. He also thanked the Council of ZES for having organised such a highly successful event, and the Freidrick Ebert Stiftung for sponsoring it.

Mr Mafukidze observed that the togetherness such as had been displayed at the seminar, had sawn the seeds of prosperity. He conluded by emphasizing that the Land Reform challenge was real and as a nation, we could only face these challenges together.

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

Previous Page TOC