The Sunday Mail
Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain on April 18 1980 after a decade-long bloody, bitter and protracted armed struggle.
At independence, 15,5 million hectares (ha) of agricultural land was owned by an estimated 6 000 white commercial farmers, who made up less than 1percent of the country’s population.
More than half of the 15,5 million ha lay in high-rainfall agro-ecological regions.
Sadly, the small-scale commercial farming sub-sector — comprised of 8 500 black farmers — occupied a measly 1,4 million ha in the drier agro-ecological regions.
An even more glaring and unfortunate situation prevailed then — in communal areas (then called Tribal Trust Lands), communal farmers remained crammed in dry areas, most of which were in ecological regions 5 and 6.
Given this dicey state of affairs, the land reform was, therefore, not only justified, but inevitable and unavoidable.
At the Lancaster House Conference in 1979 — the conference that gave birth to a sovereign and independent Zimbabwe — contention over land distribution patterns almost brought the delicate negotiations to a premature end.
The negotiations were only salvaged when Britain and her Western allies — mostly the United States of America and some European countries —pledged to underwrite the acquisition of land from white commercial farmers on a willing-buyer, willing-seller basis.
The final text of the Lancaster House Constitution, which Constitution also served as a ceasefire document and agreement between the warring sides, made a provision for the willing-buyer, willing-seller arrangement to subsist for 10 years after independence.
Pre-colonial status quo
To understand the dynamics over land ownership in Zimbabwe, it is important to rewind to the time Cecil John Rhodes and the British South Africa Company (BSAC) forcibly occupied the land in 1890.
Before the arrival of the British, the Portuguese, approaching from the East, were already trading in gold and ivory with the local inhabitants.
Conversely, in South Africa’s case, another European tribe — the Dutch (later referred to as Boers or Afrikaans) — were the first to land at the current Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town) (circa 1497) led by the pioneering sailor Vasco da Gama on his way to India.
His arrival almost coincided with the arrival of the Zulus, a Bantu tribe, in present-day KwaZulu National province from North and Central Africa.
However, the settlers in the soon-to-be-renamed Rhodesia, passed the Land Apportionment Act in 1930, which legislated for the separation of land ownership along racial lines.
The law was prompted by the Morris Carter Commission of 1925.
Notably, the Land Apportionment Act, divided land into four areas:
- So-called European (white)areas — 49 million acres;
- African (Black) native reserves — 29 million acres;
- Native Purchase Areas — 8 million acres;
- Forests and Other — 3 million acres
But, most absurdly, at the time whites only made up 50 000 of the population, while the black population stood at 1,1 million.
Fertile agricultural land, mainly in Mashonaland provinces, largely became large-scale privately owned white farms.
Some pieces of land were also converted into large-scale privately owned or corporate-owned ranches for cattle rearing.
The Land Apportionment Act also had the adverse effect of separating some closely knit families.
There were various other laws such as the Land Settlement Act (1944), Land Husbandry Act (1951), Tribal Trust Land Act (1962), Renewal Of Tribal Trust Act (1967), Tribal Courts Act, Land Tenure Act (1969) and the 1976 Water Act that affected natives.
Similarly, the diabolic apartheid system in South Africa led to the parcelling out of Bantustans.
The very essence and concept of racist apportionment and separation in Rhodesia even found expression in the urban areas, where whites lived in low-density areas, while the blacks were settled in high-density areas.
In 1951, the Native Land Husbandry Act also came into effect.
It was mainly meant to destock Tribal Trust Lands.
But it had the effect of stoking black nationalist sentiment, which led to its repeal in 1961.
In the first two decades after independence, Government received some funds to resettle blacks, but there were conditions on how the money had to be used.
Britain provided “Land Resettlement Grants” amounting to 91 million pounds by 1996, and an additional 100 million pounds granted for as budgetary support.
Through the support, Government only managed to buy low-quality land.
By 1997, only 71 000 black families had been resettled.
Of this, only 19 percent was on prime land, the remainder was either on marginal land or land unsuitable for either cultivation or grazing.
Before any piece of land could be sold, the seller first had to obtain a “certificate of no present interest”.
But this all changed after restrictive “sunset clauses” of the Lancaster House Agreement expired in the early 1990s.
Government amended the law to make compulsory land acquisition possible.
It has to be remembered that out of the country’s total land area of 39,6 million ha, 33 million ha are reserved for agriculture, while the remainder is reserved for national parks, forests, and urban settlements.
About 60 percent of white-farming areas were understood to be underutilised or unused.
The 1992 Land Acquisition Act gave Government powers to acquire more land, if it so wished or desired subject to the payment of “fair” financial compensation.
In essence, Government intended to democratise land ownership and promote the efficient use of land.
There is a lot of literature that has been written on Zimbabwe’s land issue and it includes:
- The Roger Riddel Commission Report of 1981;
- An article by Dr Gordon Chavhunduka of 1982;
- The Comptroller and Auditor- General’s Value for Money Report;
- The Rukuni Commission Reports of 1994;
- The Charles Utete Report of 2003;
- The Bhuka Land Review of 2008 (The results of the investigations, however, were not published and the official Report is, therefore, not on record.)
7 The Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement (MLRR) National A1 Land Audit Report undertaken in 2007, but never made public also;
- The MLRR Consolidated National A2 Land Audit Report released to the public in 2008;
- A Book titled “Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land” co-authored by Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Majegwa and Teresa Smart that was first published in 2013.
The Land Tenure Commission, set up in 1994, recommended (among other recommendations) that a “land tax” was the best way to achieve land redistribution.
This was never done.
Land rentals were only introduced in 2015 through the Finance Act, which introduced rentals for A1 and A2 farmers, including development levies for rural local authorities.
Collections were, however, disappointing.
Last year, a decision was made for the levies to be collected by the Ministry of Local Government rather than the Ministry of Lands.
The Land Commission, which was recommended under the Charles Utete report of 2003, was later sworn in July 2016 in terms of Section 296 of the new Constitution (2013).
Zimbabwe, even after independence, and South Africa remained countries with the most unequal land distribution in the world.
It is important to note that in the decade after the expiry of the willing-buyer and willing-seller basis in 1990, there were more than 17 constitutional amendments related to land.
But it was only after the 2000 referendum that any meaningful proposed amendments were made.
The proposal on the compulsory acquisition of land was made after Britain reneged on its promise to finance the land redistribution exercise.
The Labour Party, particularly under the leadership of Tony Blair, was reluctant to honour the pledges that were made by the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher.
This was made clear in a letter that was written by Claire Short to the then-Minister of Agriculture, Cde Kumbirai Kangai.
With the emergence of the MDC in 1999, which was generously funded by foreign powers, and increased agitation of the NGOs, the proposals made in the 2000 fell through as the “No Vote” carried the day.
The various moves that were being made to frustrate the land reform programme led to the Third Chimurenga of 2000, where land was forcibly taken from the select few for redistribution to landless Zimbabweans.
Unfortunately, some officials in the Ministry of Agriculture failed to manage the process carefully, which resulted in allocation of land to multiple beneficiaries.
Some beneficiaries were even allocated more than the prescribed hectarage.
However, all these issues are now being attended to by the Land Commission.
Happily, the new legislative framework that governs land in Zimbabwe include the following:
1) Land Acquisition Act (Chapter 20:10);
2) Public Finance Management Act (Chapter 22:19), which came into effect in 2009;
3) Rural Land Occupiers (Protection from Eviction) Act Chapter 20:16;
4) Rural Land (Farm Size Amendment) SI 288 of 2009 (As Amended);
5) Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions Act) Chapter 20:28;
6) SI 53 of 2014 on Agricultural Land Settlement (Permit Terms and Conditions);
7) Land Survey Act (20:12) of 1987 (As Amended);
8) Forest Act (Chapter 19:05) of 1990 as Amended;
9) Zimbabwe Water Act (Chapter 20:24) of 2002 (As Amended);
10) Fence Act (Chapter 20:06) of 2001 as Amended
11) Acquisition of Farm Equipment or Material Act (Chapter 18:23) of 2004;
12) War Veterans Act (Chapter 11:15) of 2001 (As Amended);
13) Administrative Justice Act (Chapter 10:28);
14) Rural District Councils Act (29:13) of 2002 (as Amended);
15) National Gender Policy (2013-2017);
16) Traditional Leaders Act (Chapter 29; 17) of 1998;
17) Regional Town and Country Planning Act (Chapter 29:12) of 1998;
18) BIPPA Agreements;
19) Land Reform and Resettlement Implementation Plan;
20) Deeds Registry Act (Chapter 20:05) of 1959;
21) The National Youth Policy;
22) Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act (22; 23);
23) Public Entities Corporate Governance Act (Chapter 10:31) of 2018; and
24) Office of President and Cabinet Communications, Policy and Strategy Documents, Directives;
Quite clearly, the National Land Policy should be consolidated and simply into a single document.
South African case
South Africa suffered the same fate after the end of apartheid in 1994 when the issue of land was put on the back burner. The willing-buyer, willing-seller programme was also peddled as the ideal plan to correct the anomaly.
But of late, the issue of land redistribution has taken centre stage.
The ruling ANC and the opposition EFF, which is led by ex-ANC youth leader Julius Malema, are agreed that the need to redistribute land is urgent.
The West has unsurprisingly begun to sound alarm bells.
It can only be hoped that South Africa will not be made to pay a heavy price for its intention.
Zimbabwe is currently struggling under illegal sanctions from the United States of America and the EU.
Land dynamics in Zimbabwe have since changed drastically as land is now in the hands of the State.
A record 300 000 families or households have now been resettled countrywide.
The focus now is to increase productivity.
The signs are already there.
Tobacco production last year reached a record 252 million kg, eclipsing the previous peak-production figure of 236 million kg recorded in 2000.
There is even scope to increase output to 400 million kg.
However, Government needs to continue supporting the sector.
Edmore is the first black treasurer of the City of Harare. He was the lead consultant in the crafting and compilation of the Public Finance Management Act of Zimbabwe of 2009.
He writes in his personal capacity.