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Land Redistribution in Zimbabwe1

Simon Pazvakavambwa2

Former Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement, Zimbabwe

Paper presented at - "Land Redistribution: Towards a Common Vision, Regional Course, Southern Africa, 9-13 July 2007"

SARPN acknowledges the World Bank as a source of this paper:
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Zimbabwe has been undertaking Land Redistribution since independence in 1980. The Land redistribution program in Zimbabwe has attracted a lot of attention and criticism, some of it unwarranted from the international community yet there appears to be little attempt to appreciate the context within which the program was undertaken. This paper, though concentrating on the post 2000 period known as the fast track phase will try to explain the historical linkages that culminated in the current program.

Historical context

Land redistribution in Zimbabwe did not start with the advent of independence. Prior to the colonization of the country by the British, the people of Zimbabwe lived in communities where the traditional chiefs were the recognized land authorities. The colonialists identified land suitable for commercial agriculture and large scale ranching and displaced the local people whom they resettled together with their chiefs in what are now known as communal lands. As time progressed, communal lands could not support the increasing population and land degradation resulted due to congestion. Communal lands are therefore a creation of the very early land redistribution program carried out by the colonialists.

The colonialists strengthened their land reform and redistribution program by enacting entrenched legislation. In 1931, the Land Apportionment Act was passed. This act designated land in terms of who lived and farmed therein. In 1951, the Land Husbandry act was introduced to reinforce agricultural practices in the areas designated by the previous acts. This legislative program was not through universal suffrage as Africans were not allowed to vote. Hence a small minority determined the future and destiny of the majority. This was to be main reason for the protracted armed struggle that later ensued.

The war of liberation in Zimbabwe was fought mainly over the land issue. Although there were other repressions meted out on the black population such as prohibitions from owning urban land, prohibitions from developing in certain areas as well as subtle separate development, land constituted the major bone of contention. Africans had no rights to any land, even land in communal areas where the majority of them lived. Instead land rights were held on their behalf by the administrative machinery set up by colonial governments such as the District Commissioners. Traditional chiefs who were the true representatives of the people were stripped of their powers most of which were now exercised by the District Commissioners. There was even a separate education system for the blacks. The whole idea was to keep the blacks as subordinates and exploit their labor. The land redistribution program carried out in the 1960’s provided the spark for confrontation. Although some of this program was for urban expansion, it was the unexplained and almost inhuman removal of people to pave way for white settlers that eventually led to the armed struggle. The level of deprivation had reached intolerable limits and hence the liberation struggle. The war of liberation displaced large numbers of people some of whom were enclosed in socalled “protected” villages in an attempt to starve liberation fighters. The conflict was bitter. This bitterness carried over into the independence era. One therefore needs to understand and appreciate that the land redistribution program in Zimbabwe was carried out against a background of historical bitterness.

The war of liberation was fought over the land issue where the local indigenous people did not have access to land in their country of birth. The protracted war eventually forced the colonialists to negotiate. The negotiations resulted in the Lancaster House Constitution which was the initial supreme law for post independence Zimbabwe. It is essential to appreciate the chronological events in the land redistribution history so that present events may be put in the correct context. Many writers have tended to blame current events on the government of Zimbabwe without putting the correct context into the argument. While no land reform or redistribution program is perfect, there are always two sides to an equation.

  1. This paper has been prepared for the workshop “Land Redistribution in Africa: Towards a common vision.” The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank and its affiliated organizations, or those of the Executive Directors of The World Bank or the governments they represent.
  2. Simon Pazvakavambwa is a former Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Rural Resources and Water Development in Zimbabwe - Views expressed in this paper are not necessarily those of the Zimbabwe government.

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