Land reform: Where did Zanu (PF) go wrong?

It does not matter how good a policy is. If the implementation model is wrong, the benefits may be very limited. Zanu (PF) spin doctors projected the land reform as the Third Chimurenga. This revoked memories of the liberation struggle, which we all know was of necessity very violent.

This resulted in war veterans and party militia resorting to violence in the land reform. The political opposition and the international media correctly presented this to the world – resulting in international condemnation of otherwise necessary reforms.

Violence was not only against farmers, but also against opposition supporters. This just served to worsen the human rights record of the government. There was no good reason to revert to the war mentality which we had clearly shunned in 1980 when the war veterans were demobilized.

Although there were legal challenges to the whole process, Zanu (PF) could have used their majority in parliament to push through a constitutional amendment and follow through with an orderly land reform programme, without violence. This would have earned the party many sympathizers as almost everyone recognized the legitimacy of the new majority rule government addressing land inequalities.

Spoiled by greed

But land reform did not benefit the expected large number of people. Only about 11% of the population benefited. Greed and partisanship spoiled the process. Multiple farms became the order of day. If the objective had been to empower all Zimbabweans then why empower just a few? How could Zanu (PF) expect to get supporters by implementing the process in such a partisan manner? They should have allocated land to the opposition supporters also. That way they would have enlisted their sympathy.

When the Ministry of Lands issued adverts for those who wanted land to apply at many centres throughout Zimbabwe, everybody thought the party had seen the light. But people were frustrated when nothing came out of that process. Instead the government resorted to some clandestine allocation process that fed the greed that we all saw in the end.

The government could have widened the schemes for the reform process. Restricting to just A1 and A2 models limited the effectiveness of addressing inequalities in land tenure. The Ndabaningi Sithole Churu farm example had demonstrated the need for residential land as well as agricultural land.

If the government had taken a cue from that and included another model for residential purposes, we would have seen a much wider and more inclusive process.

This would have had a huge impact on the housing back log in the major towns. To an extent the war veterans tried to deal with this when they unofficially parceled out land in peri-urban areas. But many potential land owners were duped by war veterans and these illegal occupations were ultimately demolished.


The issue of compensation is a highly controversial and emotional one. Many believe no compensation should be paid to the farmers, even for the tangible improvements they had made on the farms.

Although on numerous occasions Zanu (PF) ministers, including President Mugabe, had publicly agreed that compensation should be made, they suddenly turned to anger, which spoiled the whole thing.

I am persuaded that, had they kept their composure and handled the situation with wisdom, things would have turned differently. They just needed to show that the process wasn’t a vindictive bash against whites.

The white farmers here were successful because of the support they got from banks for capital expenditure. The reform process lacked planning regarding this important aspect.

Because the majority of the new land owners, particularly those allocated under the A1 model, did not have title to the land, banks could not give them finance.

If anything, the government appeared to feed a thought that the reforms were not permanent – because of the one year renewable leases given to the new farmers. The offer letters given by government clearly showed the government could repossess the land at any time.

The real success or failure of land reform should not solely be measured by production levels. It should be measured against the original goal – which was to address inequality of land tenure. Clearly, empowering only 11% of the population leaves glaring inequalities. The land issue has not been fully dealt with. It will have to be revisited – this time to correct inequalities created by our black brothers in recent years, not the white settlers of 100 years ago.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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