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Zimbabwe Government and Farmers
Locked in Land Reform Dispute

Land possession has been a major area of dispute for whites and blacks in Zimbabwe for decades. In 1965, upon independence from Britain, white Rhodesians seized control of the majority of fertile land within the country and forced blacks to use the poorer, arid, and unproductive ground. After minority rule ended in 1980 through the election of President Robert Gabriel Mugabe and the implementation of the Lancaster House Agreement, white landowners were granted ten years of protection from land distribution policies and reform. In addition, this agreement provided that land would not be seized without compensation.

In 1990, after the government was no longer constrained by provisions of the Lancaster Agreement, the Constitution was amended in order to provide for the redistribution of land within the country. Throughout this time, various amendments have been instituted in order to provide for an adequate redistribution of the land, while allowing for the fair compensation of landowners. In addition, various governments, including Britain, have provided land assistance grants in order to facilitate the process of land redistribution and compensation. By 1997, however, much of the more fertile land remained under control of a few thousand white farmers. Moreover, much of the land that had been distributed, remained in the hands of the black elites, and was not accessible for lower-class Zimbabweans. Throughout this period, the population of lower-class laborers within the "tribal reserves", increased. In 1998, international donor governments that had contributed to financing land reforms, held a conference on increased government enforced acquisition of land. These governments adopted a set of principles in order to guide "Phase II" of land reform in Zimbabwe. These principles included respect for the legal process, transparency, poverty reduction, consistency and ensuring affordability for acquisition and allocation of land grants. Subsequent to these proceedings, however, the relationship between the Zimbabwean government and donor governments faced instability, and Zimbabwe accused these governments of attempting to maintain the colonial distribution of wealth.

Over the last five years, there has been increasing political and social tension in Zimbabwe over land-distribution and compensation. In July 2000, President Mugabe stated that he would adopt a "fast-tracts" land reform process in Zimbabwe where a national committee, the National Land Identification Committee, would identify tracks of land for redistribution. This fast-tracts model consists of two approaches: model A1, to benefit 160,000 of the poor from the general landless population; and model A2 aimed at creating 51,000 black commercial farmers. This process, however, has been noted as an inefficient and inconsistent method of allocating land. Moreover, there were increasing concerns that these methods were not monitored by the judicial system.

In December 2000, the Commercial Farmer’s Union (CFU) filed a suit in the Zimbabwe Supreme Court, challenging the legality of the current fast track land reform system. The CFU was successful in obtaining an order from the Court, barring land distribution under the fast-track method because the method was held to be unconstitutional. This interdict was overturned one year later after the government allegedly reformed its policies and procedures. During November 2001, CFU created the Zimbabwe Joint Resettlement Initiative (ZJRI) and proposed redistribution of land with assistance for newly resettled farmers. Since then, there have been reports that the fast-track land measures continue, and that the overall level of distribution and compensation remains ineffective.

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Written December 1, 2002; Last updated March 26, 2008.

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