The Marred history of Land Reform

Welcome back everyone! I would like to thank you for coming back to read even though my content has been very inconsistent. I really only like to write when I have the time to dedicate to writing a whole piece in one go – and yes, I have not had that much free time in the last 2 months! Regardless, you are here reading so, thank you. ❤️

Today I would like to do a historical piece on something that I said I did not want to talk about in the past but alas, here we are. When I had asked, on Instagram, what topics people would like to read about next, this one came up and my response was “I would not touch that topic with a ten-foot pole.” Nonetheless, I wrote it down and now I have decided that I will try and write about it as best I can. I did not want to talk about land reform for a number of reason. The first being that it is an extremely complicated historical event which cannot really be explained in one blog post. Secondly, I am not sure how I feel about land re-acquisition. On the one hand, I personally know white people who were violently ripped away from their homes as a result of the Land Reform Act. On the other hand, I understand why such an act may have been seen as necessary. Execution and corruption aside, giving the black majority an opportunity to own their own land again makes a lot of sense to me. Lastly, this is still a sensitive topic for many Zimbabweans so it needs to be spoken about with a certain amount out sensitivity.

Quick history lesson:

I am well aware that a large number of my readers are not from Zimbabwe so, I will give a quick history lesson on the Land Reform Programme. Under colonial rule, a 1930s land apportionment act was passed which made it illegal for all black Africans to own land, except for 22% of the least arable land in Zimbabwe. The rest of the arable land went to white settlers. In order for white people to settle on some of these lands, many black families were displaced and moved to less desirable locations. – This is the first injustice of the ping-pong game between the black and white communities in Zimbabwe. Being primarily agricultural people, giving black Africans only the least arable land was a huge injustice which began the cycle of poverty for generations of black Zimbabweans to come. Fortunately, there was an attempt for redress upon signing the Lancaster House Agreement and achieving independence. It was decided that there needed to be efforts to distribute land to native Zimbabweans from white settlers who were given land simply because they were white. However, Britain did not follow through to aid Zimbabwe in re-distributing the land (both economically and technically). The British promised to fund the program and compensate white farmers who would loose their land but along came Tony Blair and the rest was history. So, not much was done in the years following independence. Which angered a lot of Zimbabweans because what was the point of independence if they did not get their land and livelihoods back? So, the British left Zimbabwe in an incredibly tough position because after 90 years (from 1890) of colonialism the black majority deserved to have control over their own land. However, without the resources and knowhow of the new Zimbabwean government, what happens to white farmers?

Zimbabwe Independent (Dunn, 2020)

That brings us to the early 2000s when everything went wrong and an injustice was fixed with another. After many failed land reform programs during the 1990s, there was the decision to “fast-track” land reform which resulted in a chaotic and violent mess. Then president, Robert Mugabe, organised troops to march onto white owned farms and “reclaim” them. Many families had to leave immediately to avoid the violence and leave their belongings behind. Alone, this is problematic to say the last, but to make the situation even worse, the land that got re-claimed was used as an aid to political corruption rather than redress colonial wrongs. Therefore, white farmers were not forced off their land for the good of Zimbabwe but to line the pockets of Zimbabwe’s political elite. Land was “gifted” to various party members and their families who had no agricultural abilities. This entire program exacerbated the economic problems in Zimbabwe and left many people homeless and jobless. The economy was hit incredibly hard because not only was agriculture the largest part of the Zimbabwean economy but, it was also Zimbabwe’s main export. Thus, when the people gifted land took over the farms, they did not know how to run them and productivity dropped drastically.

“You can’t imagine how many people come up to me and said, ‘We didn’t agree with you back then. We thought you were too rigid and inflexible. But now we see you were right. You were so right: they were not fit to govern.'”

– Ian Smith

The land grab of the 2000s plummeted Zimbabwe and made many white (ex-)colonisers turn around and make statements like the one above. It became proof that ‘the black majority is unfit to govern.’ Which of course is not true, but I have to admit that the way the land situation was handled does not bode well for anyone in Zimbabwe.

I spoke a lot about how I did not want to talk about this topic so you might be asking why I ended up doing so in the end? Well, I was doing some research unrelated to this topic and an article popped up from September 2020. Apparently in September 2020, the Zimbabwean government promised to give white farmers their land back. It has been a year since then and I am not sure if any of this has actually solidified – I tried to find some information but there is none up to date. Nevertheless, the thought sparked a lot of interest for me because is giving the land back to ex white farmers really the answer to right all of the wrongs that have been committed on both sides? Honestly, what happened (in the 2000s) was extremely cruel but I do not think returning land will make anything better, if anything I think it will lead to thicker resentment. So, for once, I actually have no idea what the best way to deal with this situation is. Educating farmers? But who educates them, who pays for it and eventually we still have to decide who the land goes to… I firmly believe that this long and complicated story was the anchor in Zimbabwe’s decline and because we have never tried to deal with any of the injustices committed, we are perpetually suffering for them. But, I would definitely love to hear from other people what they think about this topic. Seeing as I have no solution in mind, I would love to hear what everyone else thinks: where we went wrong and how we can (if we can), fix it?

P.S. I hate that I quoted Ian Smith – it was simply for illustrative purposes, I despise the man.

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