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Zimbabwe: New Narrative on Land Reform, 1

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Feb 26, 2013 (130226)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Whether to take credit for it or to cast blame, both ZANU-PF and most of its critics attribute responsibility for the land reform in Zimbabwe since 2000 to the party of Robert Mugabe. Although much of the debate in the media about the book "Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land," has repeated this familiar point and counterpoint, the authors in fact deny this premise, arguing that the principal force behind the land reform and how it was implemented was not ZANU-PF but Zimbabwean farmers.

The influence of the ZANU-PF leadership on land reform, they argue, is exaggerated, whether in its origin or in its implementation. And this is a distinct question from their record on other political and economic issues. ZANU-PF, they argue, acted late on land reform, in response to popular pressure and spontaneous land occupations, later moving to claim the credit, lend government support to the process, and appropriate some of the gains for the party elite. Moreover, the authors contend, the principal responsibility for Zimbabwe's post-2000 economic decline was not the land reform but rather mistaken macroeconomic policies leading to hyperinflation. Their book, they stress, does not focus on the rights or wrongs of what was done by whom, but on the results of land reform for Zimbabwe's farmers and what should be done today.

There is undoubtedly much room for debate on the detailed research, conclusions, and emphases of this new book. But it would be a serious mistake to regard it as another chapter in the pro- or anti-Mugabe debate. With the permission of authors and publishers, the two issues of AfricaFocus Bulletin released today contain excerpts from Chapters 1, 6, and 13, for readers to see for themselves at least the basic shape of the argument.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from Chapter 1 of the book. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, not sent out by e-mail but available on the web at, contains excerpts from Chapters 6 and 13. These versions lack footnotes and tables, which are available in the full pdf versions at,, and

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Zimbabwe, see

The book, published by Kumarian Press, an imprint of Stylus Publishing (, is available for purchase at

Other sources with commentary on the book include:

Duncan Green's Oxfam blog

Jonathan Steele in the Guardian

There are video and audio recordings of a LSE meeting on the book at

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land

Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa, and Teresa Smart

Kumarian Press, Stylus Publishing Sterling, Virginia


Chapter 1: Veterans and Land

The war was over and returning veterans who wanted to farm were given land; roads were built to the farms; seed, fertilizer, and implements were provided; and 40 ha of land were plowed for the farmers before they arrived. For those without farming experience, two years of training in farming and financial management were available. Much of the land was already occupied, so the existing farmers were forced off--often loaded into lorries and simply dumped far away, while their homes were burned. It was 1945–ndash;47 in Rhodesia, and the veterans were from the Second World War.

Some farmers resisted. Mhepo Mavakire Mashinge talked of the arrival of "the man who killed the Germans" who would ride out on horseback with his "black watchermen" to force the community's cattle off "his" land, often burning a few houses, and eventually erecting fences. The battle continued for a decade, as Mashinge's people cut fences and set fires on the "white land" while the white farmers burned houses and took young men for forced labor. Eventually the local community was pushed back to the small area of Mashonaland East it occupies today.

In the decade after the Second World War, the white population and the number of white farms doubled, and black people continued to be forced off the land. The 1952 Official Year Book of Southern Rhodesia notes, "Natives are being moved progressively from the European Area to the Reserves and Special Native Area." Joe Musavengana recounts his story:

I was only five years old, so I do not recall much. But I do remember people being forced into trucks by soldiers and policemen, and their small belongings being just thrown into the backs of the trucks. The trucks were packed full and people did not know where they were going. And I remember I could not take my little dog. Some of our houses were burned, and many people were simply dumped in the forest in Gokwe.

The year was 1958.

One of the new farmers was a Spitfire pilot, Ian Smith, who admitted in his memoirs that his new land had been occupied by black "squatters"--the term used for black Zimbabweans who for generations had lived on land that was suddenly declared to be "white." Smith went on to rule Rhodesia, announce the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965, and then fight a brutal war to keep Rhodesia white-ruled. And 15 years after Joe Musavengana was forced off the land, he and many others joined the guerrillas, who in 1979 helped to beat the forces of Ian Smith's government. Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.

Land had been explicitly racialized in 1930 by the Land Apportionment Act, which defined that the half of the country with the best land and water was "European" and said European land could not be sold to non-whites. The rest was left for 95% of the population. There had not been enough white people to occupy all of the "white" land, so black people had been allowed to remain as "squatters," but this ended with the huge white influx after the war. As more people were pushed into the poor half of the land designated for "Africans," overcrowding became so bad that it led to land degradation. Ken Brown, a former Land Development Officer in the Native Agriculture Department, wrote in 1959, "The majority of arable areas in reserves are already so eroded and so exhausted of fertility that nothing short of a 12 to 15 year rest to grass will restore them to a state of structure and fertility which would enable economic crop production to commence."

The white minority fought hard to maintain its privileges, and majority rule came in 1980 only after a 14-year liberation war. The new government moved quickly to redress inequalities, and the first decade of independence brought huge transformations. Health and education were expanded and agricultural marketing and agricultural extension services6 were radically shifted to serve all farmers. Meanwhile, apartheid had not ended in South Africa, where the government fought for another decade to maintain white rule; a successful multi-racial Zimbabwe was a serious ideological and practical challenge, so South Africa attacked and destabilized its now independent neighbor.

Regaining the land had been central to the liberation war, but the new government had so many issues on its plate--reversing decades of white priority at home while facing a hostile white-ruled neighbor to the south--that land reform was not a priority. Even though the UDI government lost the war, white farmers mostly kept the land. Soon after independence the first land reform7 began; 75,000 families received new land--the largest land reform in Africa, but small compared to the demand. And it was a clear success; even World Bank researchers found that "settler households increased their productivity tremendously." But the best land remained largely in white hands, and many white farmers continued to prosper, particularly with the expansion of export horticulture that came with the end of sanctions against Rhodesia.

Destabilization until 1990, several serious droughts, and the costs of restructuring a racially divided society took their toll and forced Zimbabwe to accept a structural adjustment program, which put pressure on the economy, as factories closed and jobs were lost. The World Bank and government donors to the newly independent country thought land reform was too expensive and the government was not enthusiastic, so such reform ground to a halt. By the mid-1990s, the economy was in trouble, as the Zanu-PF government failed to manage the conflicting global and national pressures. There were strikes and protests, and a new opposition party was formed. Liberation war veterans became increasingly restless, arguing they had gained nothing from the war; the issue of land came back into prominence, although the Zanu-PF government failed to make it a priority.

Finally, in 1998, the war veterans began to take action. Using mobilizing skills learned during the liberation war, they organized landless and unemployed people and-- in a pattern similar to the landless movement in Brazil-- targeted farms and occupied them overnight, in a process called jambanja (force, or action taken in anger, in Shona). At first, the Zanu-PF leadership was opposed, but the occupiers had party and government support at lower levels. Eventually, Zanu-PF reversed itself, legalized "fast track land reform," and tried to take credit for it. But the veterans knew otherwise--they were challenging their own Zanu-PF leaders.

Agnes Matsira was an 18-year-old guerrilla when she lost her leg to a land mine in 1979. Two decades later she helped to organize the jambanja and now is a farmer with 6 ha in Goromonzi district. Her best crop most recently was 27 tonnes of maize from just 4 ha--a better yield than that of most white farmers. She now has a brick house on the farm and, since her daughter died, looks after three grandchildren.

Not far away is Mrs. Chibanda. She and her husband, who had lived on her father's land in a crowded communal area nearby, joined the jambanja. "Life is difficult, but it is better now because we manage to produce enough to eat," she says. They cleared their 6 ha, which was just unused bush when they arrived. They now have two small children and have built a two-room brick house as well as a traditional round Shona kitchen. But she laughs as she shows us the kitchen--it has become the tobacco-grading room, and she points to the cooking area, which is outside again. This is their first year for tobacco. They are growing 1.5 ha and have their own small tobaccocuring barn. Tobacco must be cured carefully, and this year they slept next to the barn to ensure that the fire did not go out at night. When we interviewed them in April 2011, they had already sold eight bales of tobacco for $1,100 and expected to sell another seven later in the month.

Agrarian reform is a slow process, and it takes a generation for new farmers to be fully productive. A decade after jambanja, Zimbabwe's agricultural production has largely returned to the 1990s level. Small-scale black farmers such as the Chibandas now produce together almost as much tobacco as the big white farmers once did.

It has been hard work, and the new farmers started out in conditions that were not always propitious. There has been political violence, particularly around elections, and greed and corruption at high levels. Post–ndash;land reform Zimbabwe has been subject to sanctions and a major cut in foreign aid, and the government managed its response badly, opting to print money, which led to hyperinflation in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, Zimbabwe abolished the local currency and switched to use the US dollar, which led to an unexpectedly rapid revival of the economy and a return to some sort of normality.

The new farmers have some advantages. Zimbabwe is built on modern agriculture with hybrid seeds, fertilizer, tractors (or at least ox plowing), and irrigation. Hyperinflation made key supplies erratic, but dollarization means these farm inputs are available. Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa, so new farmers can make correct use of inputs and gain high yields. Two state institutions, the Agritex extension service and the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), struggled through the hyperinflation, have come back to life under dollarization, and are effective. Contract farming of cotton, tobacco, soya, and other crops is also expanding rapidly, offering an important boost for small farmers.

Colonial and Resistance History

To understand land reform, a bit of Rhodesian and Zimbabwean history helps. There are many good history books, and we do not want to cover the same ground. And Zimbabwe has a long history, including trade with the Arabs on the coast of Mozambique from the eighth century and the rise of Great Zimbabwe in the 14th century. But a few key benchmarks in the century of colonialism and resistance are important to this book:

  • In 1886, gold was discovered in the Rand of South Africa, and many believed there was also gold on the Zimbabwe plateau. Cecil Rhodes's British South Africa Company was granted its royal charter in 1898 and immediately began its occupation of what it called Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. When it failed to find huge amounts of gold, it instead took land for cattle and farming. Resistance wars in 1893 and 1896–ndash;97, known as the First Chimurenga, were defeated by the superior firepower of the settlers.

  • The colony was then ruled as a commercial company until settlers were granted self-governing dominion status in 1923. Increasing racial segregation was imposed, highlighted by the Land Apportionment Act of 1930, discussed in chapter 3.

  • The post-World War II 1945-55 period saw industrialization, urbanization, the development of mining, an agricultural revolution for white farmers, a major migration of "Europeans" to Rhodesia, and the eviction of more than 100,000 Zimbabweans from European land.

  • By the late 1950s, there was a move under Garfield Todd to make a few concessions to the majority, but he was removed as prime minister in 1958 for being too "proAfrican." White intransigence increased with the victory of the Rhodesia Front in 1962: Ian Smith became prime minister in 1964, and on November 11, 1965, he signed Southern Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence to try to stop the decolonization and majority-rule process that was moving south across Africa. Malawi and Zambia had both become independent in 1964.

  • African resistance began first in the labor movement, with a railway strike in 1945 and a general strike in 1948. In 1960, the National Democratic Party (NDP) was formed to demand majority rule; the movement split in 1963 into the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu) and Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu).

  • Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, founders of NDP, were jailed by the Smith regime in 1964–ndash;74. When released, they went on to head Zapu and Zanu, respectively. In 1962, people left for Zambia and from there were sent abroad for military training--Zapu in the then–ndash;Soviet Union and Zanu in China. The first military action was in 1966, and the Second Chimurenga had begun; the war escalated in the early 1970s.

  • In 1966 and 1968, the United Nations imposed comprehensive mandatory sanctions on UDI Rhodesia. Independence in Mozambique in 1975 meant Rhodesia lost an ally that had helped to circumvent sanctions, while Zanu was able to establish rear bases and escalate the war. South Africa reduced its own sanctions-busting support, and finally the white government capitulated.

  • Talks took place in Lancaster House, London, beginning in September 1979 and an agreement was signed on December 21, 1979. Elections in February gave 57 of 80 seats to Zanu and 20 to Zapu. (Twenty seats were reserved for whites; all were won by a Rhodesia Front still headed by Ian Smith, showing how little had changed in 20 years.) Robert Mugabe became prime minister and independence was declared on April 18, 1980. By the end of the war, there were up to 50,000 guerrillas, at least 40,000 people had been killed, and 20% of the African rural population was detained in "protected villages."


Zimbabwe is one of the most-educated countries in Africa, and there has been substantial high-quality research and fieldwork on land reform. Five researchers in particular have followed resettlement over the long term: Sam Moyo, Bill Kinsey, Prosper Matondi, Nelson Marongwe, and Ian Scoones. Without their research, insights, and help, this book would have been impossible. Of course, we take responsibility for what we have done with their data. We have also drawn on fieldwork by PhD and MSc students and by other researchers at the University of Zimbabwe and elsewhere, including Angus Selby, Wilbert Sadomba, Easther Chigumira, Shingirai Mandizadza, Ruswa Goodhope, Wilson Paulo, Nkanyiso Sibanda, Admos Chimhowu, Blessing Karumbidza, Mette Masst, Creed Mushimbo, Asher Walter Tapfumaneyi, and Precious Zikhali. And we drew on a prescient 1968 thesis by Malcolm Rifkind.

Our own fieldwork was done in Mashonaland Central and East in 2010 and 2011. Our research team included Collen Matema, Phides Mazhawidza, Fadzai Chiware, Bella Nyamukure, and Stephen Matema. This book could not have been done without the farmers who gave us their time (and often pumpkins as well) and the excellent Agritex officers Herbert Harufaneti, Innocent Govea, and F. Kudzerema.

Note that numbers are surprisingly hard to establish. Colonial records claimed to be able to identify black and white farmers down to the last one, but in fact, they were often inaccurate, even on basics such as the number of white farmers, where numbers were not precisely known, and increasing numbers of white farmers had multiple farms. ... Table 1.1 appears to be the most complete set of figures, but it disagrees in some places with other reports, including Utete.

Two Land Reforms

Zimbabwe came to independence with 700,000 black farmers squeezed onto 53% of the farmland and about 6,000 white farmers on 46% of the farmland, which was also the best land. But white farmers were using less than one-third of that land--and they were not doing very well with it. At independence, one-third of white farmers were insolvent and one-third were only breaking even. The rest were profitable, and a few hundred were spectacularly successful (see chapter 3). Although a few white families could trace their ancestry back to the soldiers who were given land by the British South Africa Company in the 1890s, or to early 20th-century settlers, by 2000, less than 5% of white farmers in Zimbabwe were the descendants of pioneers. Indeed, less than 10% were from families that had settled before World War II, according to Commercial Farmers Union records. ...

Table 1.1 Land in 1980, 2000, and 2010

[See pdf version of this chapter at]

In practice, a few were world-class, but many were making poor use of some of the best farmland in Africa and were leaving large areas vacant.

There have been two land reforms, the results of which are detailed in Table 1.1. The first, in the mid-1980s, was under the Lancaster House agreement that ended the liberation war, which meant the government had to buy resettlement land on a "willing buyer, willing seller" basis. In general only the most unsuccessful farmers with the poorest land wanted to sell, but 75,000 farm families were resettled.

The "fast track land reform" that followed the jambanja in 2000 set out two models. The small-scale or A1 model divided former white farms into about 40 small farms, typically with 6 ha each of arable land in the areas of best land such as Mashonaland, and larger plots in cattle areas. The A2 model split white farms into four to six farms, typically with 50–ndash;70 ha arable each in the best areas. (The scenery of Zimbabwe is dramatic because of the hills and large rock outcrops, which also means that parts of most farms are not suitable for agriculture.)

A1 farms initially largely went to people who had occupied in the jambanja, and later to people who applied. Plots were formally marked out, and farmers have permits or letters from the government giving them the right to occupy the plot. Under the A1 scheme, 146,000 families received land. A2 farms required a much more complex process, with a formal business plan and evidence of farming skills and some capital; broadly speaking, many A2 farmers have urban links because they were able to mortgage properties such as a Harare house. Nearly 23,000 families received A2 farms. Including the first resettlement, 245,000 resettlement farm families now have 40% of the farmland.

Most farmers are still on communal lands, accounting for 50% of the farmland. The remaining 10% of the farmland is accounted for by 8,500 black farmers allowed to buy land in colonial times (4% of land); 950 large-scale black farmers (2%); fewer than 400 large-scale white farmers (less than 1% of the land); and 250 large corporate or state-owned agro-industrial plantation estates and wildlife conservancies that remain mostly untouched, accounting for 4% of the land.

Eddie Cross, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP and policy coordinator general, said in April 2011 that white farms had been "invaded and occupied by this rag tag collection of people" who are just "squatters" and that "the majority of these farms have become largely defunct, their homesteads and farm buildings derelict and their arable lands have returned to bush." This is a line also taken by many international agencies.

But we have seen something different. We visited A2 farmers who are major commercial farmers turning over more than $100,000 per year, and A1 commercial farmers with a few hectares but who are making a profit of more than $10,000 per year and who are more productive than the white farmers they replaced. To be sure, we have also seen both A1 and A2 farms that are unused or underused. Just as there was a spectrum of white farmers, some good, some bad, and most in the middle, there is also a spectrum of resettlement farmers. But, on average, in just a decade the new farmers have caught up to the white farmers' production; it is widely estimated that new farmers take a generation to reach full production, and this was the case with both the white farmers and the first land reform, so the new farmers can be expected to develop significantly in the next decade.

Furthermore, the picture is rapidly changing, in part because of the harm done by hyperinflation and the recovery post-dollarization. Any land reform will be disruptive in the short term, and the fast track land reform did hit export agriculture and food production. The hostile response of the international community meant a decrease in aid and the imposition of sanctions, which cut loans and even short-term bank credit. When faced with sanctions in the 1970s, Rhodesia responded with very tight control of foreign exchange and of the economy in general. In the early 2000s, Zimbabwe tried an opposite policy, of simply printing more and more money in the hopes of boosting the economy. The policy failed disastrously, and the result was hyperinflation. There were 55 Zimbabwe dollars to 1 US dollar in 2002, 800 in 2004, and 80,000 in 2005. After that the number spiraled up meaninglessly; commerce was increasingly by barter or in dollars or rand for those who had access to foreign currency. Agriculture, and land-reform farmers especially, were hit particularly hard; it was difficult to obtain essential inputs and pointless to try to sell produce for cash that would have lost its value the next day. In January 2008, the government issued a Z$10 million banknote, but by July it had to issue a $100 billion banknote. The 2007/08 season was the worst, with food production down to 37% of the 1990s average.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediated talks that led to a September 2008 agreement for a Unity Government, which took office in early 2009. On January 29, 2009, the government legalized the use of foreign currency and in February started to pay civil servants in US dollars and do its own accounts in that currency. The Z$ was dead and the US$ kick-started the economy in a dramatic way. Recovery was rapid. The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries reported that manufacturing sector capacity utilization, which had fallen to 10% in 2008, rose to 57% in the first half of 2011.

In the 2009/10 season, the first season under dollarization, food production returned to 79% of the 1990s average (see Table 1.2). The 2010/11 season saw some variable rain in January, which caused a loss of 10% of maize; nevertheless, food production was 83% of the 1990s average. Resettlement farmers, with 34% of the farmland, produced 49% of the maize; the most dramatic increase was by A1 farmers, who increased production by 20% over the previous year, despite difficulties with rain. And prospects for the 2011/12 season are good. ...

Table 1.2 Zimbabwe National Agricultural Production

[See pdf version of this chapter at]

We cannot give a totally up-to-date picture, but we believe that the new farmers are now using much more than the one-third of the land once worked by the white farmers, although they have not yet reached the intensity of those farmers--meaning that production is already returning to 1990s levels because of the more extensive land use.

Zimbabwe is different from the neighboring countries of South Africa and Mozambique in that the loss of land was within living memory, and Zimbabwe's independence struggle was led by people with a rural background, compared to the urban leadership in South Africa and Mozambique.

The history of white commercial farming, and the recent rural history, combine to make farming seem an attractive way to provide for the family, and for elites a serious means of accumulation. We interviewed schoolteachers who had become A1 farmers and who felt they were earning a better living, and we met members of the elite who had moved away from Harare and were living and working on their farms.

Agriculture in Zimbabwe can be highly profitable, but it is also capital-intensive, and successful farmers had initial investment capital, which they actively reinvested. For both A1 and A2 farmers, having urban contacts and the ability to raise money, for example, if a family member had an urban job, helped kick-start them in farming. But the other key factor has been reinvestment--not building a fancy house or buying a car, but putting the initial profits back into the farm.

Another key lesson is that when successful farmers sell their crop, they immediately buy the next set of inputs-- seed, fertilizer, and tools. If all the revenue from sales is brought home, the conflicting demands of school fees, improvements, and other expenses often mean that not enough is left to buy essential fertilizer, thus creating a downward spiral of lower production and lower income.

It is important to understand how Zimbabwe reached this particular land reform, and to set out the serious challenges that remain. But it is not the role of this book to analyze the rights and wrongs of colonial administration and the governance of contemporary Zimbabwe--understanding how we arrived here and how history constrains the way Zimbabwe can move forward should never be confused with a justification of misconduct.


This is not a book about what might have been, could have been, or should have been. Instead, this is a book about Zimbabwe land reform in 2011 and about the new farmers on the ground--about their successes and failures, their hopes and prospects. Zimbabwe has taken back its land, and the new occupants will not allow that land reform to be reversed.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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