Back to Index
Land policy in Zimbabwe: A framework for discussion papers
Doré (1), Sokwanele
April 10, 2012
sets the tone and lays out a framework for the presentation of a
series of discussion papers on land policy in Zimbabwe. It begins
with the premise that land policy, especially the 'Fast Track' land
reform programme, was made possible by the accretion and concentration
of executive power in the Presidency. In particular, it argues that
wide Presidential powers of appointment - the power to hire and
fire virtually all top government officials - has its corollary
in land policy. By nationalising most commercial farms, land could
be acquired to penalise perceived opponents and reallocated to reward
known supporters. To legitimise this transfer of wealth, a national
narrative of the lost lands and sovereignty was developed to justify
the seizure of others' property with impunity and without compensation.
From this premise,
three main themes are developed. The first is that state control
over land undermines political rights, locks up the collateral value
of land, and violates the principles underlying economic efficiency.
The second theme is the change that took place over three decades
from a social developmental state to a predatory state based on
crony capitalism. Land policy changed from supporting the poor to
privileging the rich, from focusing on reducing poverty in the communal
areas to rewarding supporters with land in resettlement areas, and
from enjoying secure property rights after independence to seizures
of property by force after 2000. The third theme is the need find
our way back to a path of development and a land policy that is
based on democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and secure property
The last part
of the paper outlines those topics to be discussed in the series
of articles. The articles are divided into two parts. The first
series of articles will look back to evaluate and learn lessons
from past land policy failures, while the second part looks forward
to policies that promote secure property rights, the commercialisation
of smallholder agriculture, and the growth in agricultural productivity
that is necessary for the structural transformation of the economy.
with us. Please remain in this country and constitute a nation based
on national unity. We will not seize land from anyone who has a
use for it."
Robert Mugabe appealing to white farmers at a rally in Highfield,
27 January 1980 (BBC News)
coming up to you, handing over a piece of paper, and saying, 'What's
yours is now mine.' Not just your home and land, but your equipment,
produce, and your very livelihood. Imagine that you appeal to the
High Court for an order to protect your property, but the order
is simply ignored. Imagine that you then ask the police to enforce
the court order, but you are told that they cannot intervene in
a political matter. Eventually, a rowdy crowd throws you out of
your home by force while the police watch, doing nothing to protect
you, your family, or your property. Imagine you are an old man or
woman who has lost everything you have worked for.
the context of how such raw power is exercised lies in the rise
to power of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's long-serving President. His
resolve to carry through his controversial land reform programme
after 2000 had its genesis in his socialist ideology and the consolidation
of his executive powers in the 1980s. It is easy to forget that
in the heady days after the liberation struggle, Zimbabwe's charismatic
and articulate new leader was determined to drive the socialist
transformation of Zimbabwean society and establish a one-party state
in which 'unity' meant ensuring the loyalty of citizens, not just
to the state, but to his party, ZANU (PF).
When Edgar Tekere,
ZANU (PF)'s First Secretary, voiced his opposition to the one-party
state in 1987, Mugabe moved swiftly to oust him by combining the
two most powerful posts enshrined in the party's constitution. As
party leader, Mugabe consolidated his grip over the party by becoming
both its President and First Secretary. That year he also fused
the executive powers of the Prime Minister with the non-executive
powers of appointments of the President to establish his own unassailable
powers as the Executive President (2). By the end of the year he
had crushed his erstwhile ally Joshua Nkomo and his opposition party,
ZAPU, during a brutal campaign, Operation Gukurahundi, that ended
with the creation of a de facto one-party state. Today, after three
decades in power, President Mugabe is grandiloquently referred to
as His Excellency, Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief
of the Zimbabwe Defence Force; or less formally as Cde Robert Mugabe.
At the core
of Mugabe's presidential powers is his ability to appoint virtually
all senior positions in the party, the government, the armed services,
the judiciary, parastatal organisations and commissions. He directly
appoints members of his party's Politburo, members of his Cabinet,
Provincial Governors, the Commanders of the Armed Forces, the Commissioner-General
of Police, and Supreme Court judges. Although he is now constitutionally
obliged to make many of these appointments in agreement with the
Prime Minister (3), he continues to exercise his undiminished autocratic
powers to make appointments unilaterally.
the President allocates all the most important government positions.
He has the power to bestow a top job on a chosen person, with all
the status, benefits, as well as the delegated authority to exercise
power in their own right. He may also remove them. To keep the perks
of a job, the incumbent's best strategy is to follow orders and
remain loyal. But as many citizens do not work for government, they
are not beholden to state officials and bureaucrats. How then to
bring such independently-minded citizens under the party's political
hegemony? It is by bringing their privately owned assets, on which
they depend for their livelihoods, under state and party control.
Legislation that enables the state to acquire land from the 'undeserving'
and allocate it to the 'deserving' becomes a powerful tool of political
control and patronage, especially when the President has the discretion
to decide who is who.
The only question
remaining is how to justify and legitimise a process of taking something
belonging to one citizen and giving it to another; and, if possible,
to do so without compensation. It is to constantly repeat a story
based on a rich mixture of ideology, culture and history that I
call the 'nationalist narrative of the lost lands'. It consists
largely of an account of victimhood and entitlement and of dividing
people between an authentic, patriotic, legitimate and deserving
'us', who belong in the party, and the usurpers, puppets and foreigners
defined as the undeserving 'them', who are outside it. The same
story is retold, renewed and embellished with heroic accounts, the
selective use of history, the invention of tradition, mythologizing
the past and demonising detractors. It is based on a highly selective
truth, which is used as propaganda. Above all, it is sustained by
the power to provide individual incentives that make people believe
that however morally dubious their actions, their cause is just.
The end, in other words, justifies the means.
It is from this
narrative that I intend to begin a series of 12 articles that explores
the premises and principles of Zimbabwe's land policies. These articles
cover three broad themes.
The first theme
is to examine the political and economic impacts of the state's
power to acquire, control, and allocate communal, resettlement and
commercial farmland in Zimbabwe. Four arguments are advanced. One
is that the gradual eroding of citizens' land rights also undermines
their political rights and economic freedom. The second is that
bureaucratic top-down modes of programme implementation, especially
for resource-constrained developing economies, are notoriously inefficient.
A third argument is that state ownership locks in the economic collateral
value of land for farm investments, severely constraining financial
markets needed for farm investments that are crucial to boost productivity
and rural incomes. The last argument is that land allocation by
officials is inefficient because it violates the principles underlying
the optimum allocation of factors of production. The cumulative
affect of these constraints is that agricultural production and
growth are well below their potential. Inevitably, poverty persists.
The second theme
is the perverse evolution of Zimbabwe - from a social developmental
state in the 1980s to a predatory crony-capitalist state after 2000.
Whereas the communal areas were the primary focus for poverty reduction
in the 1980s, they were abandoned in the 1990, and only resettlement,
based on literally seizing land, remained on the government empowerment
agenda after 2000. Whereas the priority for land allocation in the
1980s was the resettlement of landless and war-stricken families,
after 2000 seized farmland was redistributed to senior politicians,
officers and other party loyalists. Whereas the state accepted strong
property rights based on freehold tenure in the 1980s, the gradual
erosion of property rights in the 1990 ended with the nationalisation
of most commercial farms in 2005 without compensation. Today, the
common good of the nation has been sacrificed by a predatory state
that condones corrupt, rent-seeking behaviour for the enrichment
of the politically privileged few.
The third theme
is the long road to redemption and transformation. First and foremost
it is to restore Zimbabwe to the community of nations that respects
both the letter and spirit of international laws, conventions and
treaties. Zimbabwe must return to a developmental path based on
democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is a journey where
the notion of sovereignty means empowering citizens by restoring
and enlarging their political and economic rights, including strong,
secure and tradable property rights. It means granting citizens
the right to invest in their own livelihoods and own their means
of production, the freedom to manage their own affairs, and to benefit
from their own enterprise. The watchwords for this vision are captured
in the title of Amartya Sen's book, Development as Freedom. It envisages
a state that actively participates in developing a policy, legal
and institutional framework that nurtures the capabilities of its
citizens and provides them with incentives to lead productive and
fulfilling lives for themselves, their families, their communities
and the nation.
papers will be divided into two parts. The first part will dwell
mainly on the first two themes. It will examine how the national
narrative on land maintained polices and programmes that were inimical
to the economic and social imperatives of poverty reduction, equity
and economic growth. The second series of six articles will provide
economic analysis to formulate an alternative policy, legal and
institutional framework in order to achieve equity, agricultural
commercialisation, economic growth and the structural transformation
of the economy.
The next paper
in Part I (Paper 2), entitled the Nationalist
Narrative and the Demise of the Resettlement Programme, will
show how certain traditional precepts on land, when combined with
socialist ideology, resulted in a resettlement programme that was
designed with an inherent and unsustainable financial flaw. To continue
the programme and balance its books, the government began passing
legislation that initially short-changed farmers for their land
and eventually nationalised it. The government also become increasingly
strident in demanding funds 'promised' by Britain, even passing
a constitutional amendment making Britain responsible for paying
compensation to dispossessed white farmers.
The third paper
entitled The Economics of
Communal Land Tenure begins by exploring the ambiguity of the
communal lands. Were they a colonial creation to force an impoverished
peasantry to work for low wages in the white capitalist sector,
or were they the embodiment of socialist communal ideals? The paper
then explores how a tenure system based on the chiefly allocation
of land creates market failure in land and other factor markets
(4); how the system lacks a mechanism to realise economies of scale;
and how this market failure leads to insatiable demands for land
which result in environmental degradation, rural poverty, and dependence
on government subsidies and donor assistance.
Paper 4, Changing
the Rules of the Resettlement Game, looks back at how the original
ideals of helping the poorest citizens after Independence slowly
became corrupted. As the ruling party's popularity began to slide,
it became more prepared to use land to reward its supporters. During
the 1990s we find that the well-resourced, experience and qualified
become eligible for resettlement. After 2000, the criterion for
resettlement had been reduced to any black Zimbabwean who was prepared
to settle on commercial farms seized from their former white owners.
Law unto Themselves, the title of Paper 5, traces the legal
changes that took place after the expiry of clauses that protected
property rights in the Lancaster House Constitution. This paper
is a brief legal history of land legislation and policy, from the
controversial changes in compensation in the early 1990s to the
nationalisation of the land in 2005. More than this, it shows how
legislation granted wide discretionary powers to the executive,
how the independence of the judiciary was compromised, and how,
with every legal power at its disposal, the rule of law was eventually
flouted with equanimity.
The last of
the papers in Part I, Promises, Lies and Resettlement Funds, examines
the veracity of claims and counter-claims, especially within the
context of the nationalist narrative, of Britain's responsibility
to pay compensation for land. It goes on to show how the President
mercilessly cleansed large swathes of agricultural land of whites
- called settlers, not Zimbabweans - in retribution for British
The first paper
of Part II critically examines the land audit as set out in the
which is to be carried out under the auspices of Zimbabwe's Inclusive
government. If, as the parties agree, the land reform programme
is considered 'irreversible', then the merits of the exercise may
be limited. The paper will argue that a land audit should not be
held hostage, like the constitutional
making process, by those responsible for chaos, lawlessness
and violence, which were endemic to the land reform programme.
papers that follow will make a series of proposals for land policy
reform across communal, resettlement and commercial farming areas.
The fundamental argument is that property rights must evolve, continually
giving registered owners of land stronger rights and more secure
and tradable forms of tenure. Only then will it be possible to seriously
discuss the commercialisation of smallholder farming operation,
rapid pro-poor growth in the agricultural sector, and the structural
transformation of the economy.
1) Director of Shanduko: Centre for Agrarian and Environmental Research
2) Constitutional Amendment No. 7 (Act 23 of 1987)
3) Derek Matyszak, A Note
on the Re-Appointment of the Service Chiefs (February, 2012)
4) Factor markets are the markets for inputs for production, classically
land, labour and capital.
Visit the Sokwanele
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.