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Throughout the history of Zimbabwe, land has remained the most important political and economic issue in the country. This can be traced back to the time of the Pioneer Column in the late 1800s and the subsequent legal instruments that were passed and entrenched to ensure division of the ownership of land between the two major races namely, blacks and whites. The evolution of these legal instruments is as follows:

The Lippert Concession (1889)

This Concession which preceded the actual occupation of Zimbabwe in 1890 allowed would-be settlers to acquire land rights from the indigenous people. The act resulted in the British South African Company (BSAC) buying concessions from the British Monarch which were then used as a basis of land expropriation. The revenue accrued was repatriated to the United Kingdom and the indigenous peoples, the owners of the land, got nothing.

The Native Reserves Order in Council (1898)

The order created the infamous Native Reserves for blacks only. This was in the face of a systematic mass land expropriation by white settlers. To the whites, the Native Reserves were meant to prevent the extinction of the indigenous people while at the same time guaranteeing that settlers got the lion's share of fertile land. The result was that Native Reserves were set up haphazardly in low potential areas which subsequently became the present Communal areas.

1890-1920 Period.

This was a period of conquest and land expropriation. The BSAC was in the forefront of the occupation of Mashonaland and Matebeleland and the suppression of the first Chimurenga (National Uprising in 1893). These processes were accompanied by the seizure of land and cattle. Racial segregation in the use and ownership of land was introduced at an early stage. By the eve of World War One in 1914, the apportionment of land was as follows:

Africans 24 000 000 acres

The BSAC 48 000 000 acres

Individual white settlers 13 000 000 acres

Other Private Companies 9 000 000 acres

During this period, the country's population was as follows:

African population 836 000

Whites 28 000

Even by this early period, only 3% of the population controlled 75% of the economically productive land while 97% were forcefully confined to 23% of the land scattered into a number of reserves.

The Land Apportionment Act (1930)

The main purpose of the act was to formalise separation by law, land between blacks and whites, and this was after the deliberations and recommendations of the Morris Carter Commission of 1925. The fertile high rainfall areas became large scale privately owned white farms. In 1931, the act divided the land area in the country as follows:

Land classification Acreage

Native Reserves 29 000 000 acres

Native Purchase Areas 8 000 000 acres

European areas 49 000 000 acres

Unassigned 6 000 000 acres

Forest 3 000 000 acres

Population distribution was as follows:

Africans: 1.1 million

Whites: 50 000

Native Land Husbandry Act (1951)

The act meant to enforce private ownership of land, destocking and conservation practices on black small holders. It met mass resistance and fueled nationalistic politics. The law was subsequently scrapped in 1961.

The Tribal Trust lands (TTL) act (1965)

The act was devised to change the name of the Native Reserves and create trustees for the land. High population densities on TTLs made them degraded 'homelands'.

Lancaster House Conference: The land Debate.

In the Opening Speech to the Lancaster House Constitution, the Patriotic Front listed the land question among its nine major issues for negotiation. During the negotiations, the British government insisted on a stringent protection of private property with equally restrict provisions for 'prompt' and 'adequate' compensation in the few cases where compulsory was to be allowed. The Patriotic Front's position was that: every person was to be protected from having his property compulsorily acquired, subject to the right of government to acquire any property in the public interest; and compensation for property so acquired would be at the discretion of the government.

The Patriotic Front objected to the British proposals as the objective of the struggle in Zimbabwe was the recovery of the land which the people were dispossessed of. The British provisions converted the freedom from deprivation of property into a right to retain privileges and perpetuate social and economic injustice.

The Lancaster House Conference nearly broke-down over the land question. The Patriotic front wanted the British government to provide money to pay compensation. An agreement was reached and the Patriotic Front announced it as follows:

"We have now obtained assurances that ... Britain, the United States of America and other countries will participate in a multinational donor effort to assist in land, agricultural and economic development programmes. These assurances go a long way in allaying the great concern we have over the whole land question arising from the great need our people have for land and our commitment to satisfy that need when in government".

At independence in 1980, 97% of our population (Africans) owned only 45 million acres, slightly under half the total area of 96 million acres, leaving the rest, over half the land area to only 3% of the population (whites). Such imbalances had to be redressed within the confines of the Lancaster House Constitution. Britain pledged to fund the resettlement programme to make sure that provisions for compulsory acquisition without compensation did not go into the Zimbabwean Constitution generally, and in particular through Section 16 which was designed to give total protection to private property.

Due to a variety of reasons, all of which have their roots in the Lancaster House Agreement, the resettlement programme did not perform to expectations. Firstly, under the willing seller/willing buyer principle, land was not offered in sufficient bulk to the government. Secondly, that which was offered to government was the poorer quality land in regions of low rainfall patterns and poor ecological soils. Thirdly, because of the 'fair market price' clause, the government was greatly constrained and there have not been sufficient funds forthcoming to buy the land.

In 1980 the Zimbabwe Conference on Reconstruction and Development (ZIMCORD) conference was held and its stated objective of mobilising support from the international community was for, inter alia, finance for resettlement. Participants in the scheme were Britain, West Germany, the United States of America and others. The aid promised at Lancaster and ZIMCORD was not forthcoming in sufficient amounts to extinguish land hunger. Thus after seven years of independence only 40 000 families of the original 162 000 families were resettled between 1980 and 1987.


The nationalist movement and the cry for freedom was, among other things, born of the need to change the skewed land distribution pattern in the country. Even during the Lancaster House talks in London in 1979, the land issue was so cardinal to the independence of Zimbabwe that it was enshrined in the constitution of independent Zimbabwe. The negotiating parties agreed that there would be no compulsory acquisition of land but that a willing seller/willing buyer principle would apply for the first ten years.

The Communal Land Act (1981)

The act was designed to change TTLs into Communal Areas which resulted in the shift of land authority from traditional leadership to local authorities.

The Land Acquisition Act (1985)

This act drawn up in the spirit of the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, (willing seller/willing buyer principle) gave government the first right to purchase large scale farms for resettlement of indigenous people. Largely because of financial constraints, the act had a limited impact on the resettlement programme.

Land Reform and Resettlement Programme.

The desire to resettle the landless by the Government has not been fulfilled largely because the government could not acquire land when and where it desired. Land owners were either unwilling to sell or asked for double or triple the prices for their land. Because of the willing seller/willing buyer undertaking, government could only settle 71 000 families out of a targeted 162 000 families between 1980 and 1990.

Meanwhile, the level of congestion reached catastrophic levels. Political pressure for redress mounted, and in some instances, communal farmers settled themselves unilaterally and haphazardly on commercial farms bordering their areas.

Against this background, the government decided to compulsorily acquire land for resettlement using the Land Acquisition Act (Chapter 2010). The act provides for fair compensation for land acquired for resettlement purposes. The landowner has recourse to court if not agreeable to the price set by the acquiring authority.

The Land Acquisition Act (1992)

This act is a follow-up to the 1985 Act and is meant to acquire more land for the resettlement of blacks that are in congested marginal rainfall areas. Implementation of this act is currently underway.

Criteria for Land Acquisition.

The land targeted for acquisition was categorised as follows:

Those who feel that their land should not have been designated are asked to submit (to government) their written objections (as per the requirements of the act) within 30 days of the notice to compulsorily acquire being gazetted.

Donors Conference and the Second Phase of the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme (LRRP): September 1998.

The International Donors' Conference on Land Reform and Resettlement Programme in Zimbabwe was held in Harare from 9-11 September, 1998. The objective of the Conference was to inform the donor community on the land reform and resettlement programme and to mobilise support for the same. About 48 countries and international organisations were represented at the Conference.

The donors unanimously endorsed the need for land reform and resettlement in Zimbabwe and affirmed that the programme was essential for poverty reduction, economic growth and stability. They also appreciated the political imperative and urgency of the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme and agreed that the Inception Phase covering 24 months should start immediately.

A number of donors pledged technical and financial support for the programme.

Objectives of the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme:

To reduce the extent and intensity of poverty among rural families and farm workers by providing them adequate land for agricultural use. Communal families have contributed a lot to agricultural produce.

To increase the contribution of agriculture to GDP by increasing the number of commercialised small-scale farmers using formerly underutilised

To promote the environmentally sustainable utilisation of land

To increase the conditions for sustainable peace and social stability by removing imbalances in land ownership

Beneficiaries of the Resettlement Programme:

Communal families selected from overpopulated villages, including ex-farm workers and ex-mine workers.

People with training or certificates in agriculture or a demonstrated capacity in farming such as Master Farmers and graduates from agricultural colleges.

Special groups such as women who constitute 51% of the population.

Indigenous people intent on making a break-through in commercial agriculture.

The Government Resettlement Models:

The following are the proposed resettlement models to be implemented:

MODEL A1 (Villagised)

Each settler is allocated a residential plot and an individual arable plot, with communally shared grazing wood-lots and water points.

MODEL A2 (Self-Contained Units)

Each settler is given a self-contained complete unit with residential, arable and grazing lot.


This model is applicable to the drier parts of the country where ranching is the only sustainable land use. The land is divided into three tiers as follows:

First Tier: Comprising a cluster of villages, with some arable plots and space for social services.

Second Tier: Each benefiting household keeps a limited number of livestock units for day to day use.

Third Tier: This is the main grazing area where the bulk of the herd is kept for commercial purposes.

Alternative Land Acquisition and Resettlement Approaches.

1. Community participation and implementation model

In this model the government acquires the land, and communities plan and execute their own settlement. They are also responsible for obtaining the required planning, technical, and managerial assistance from any source they choose, including government services, NG0s, or the private sector.

Once the government has acquired the land and has selected and trained the beneficiaries, it disburses the remaining balance of the uniform public support to the beneficiary community and lets it plan and execute its own settlement. The balance could be disbursed in tranches, which could be subject to demonstration of progress in planning (to be kept very simple) and execution of the development.

2. Private sector approaches

Public support for private sector-initiated approaches would have the advantage of widening the scope and increasing the efficiency of the land reform programme by enhancing the commercialisation of smallholder agriculture, providing land reform beneficiaries with access to the private sector partner's business infrastructure, knowledge and information, and encouraging private sector contributions to the programme.

The potential implementing agencies for the private sector approaches could be: farmers' associations (or their individual members as sellers or developers), commercial banks (or a group of banks), private sector developers, labour unions, churches, women's organisations, and other NG0s. As described above, a potential implementing organisation would first need to have its specific programme proposal screened and be accredited by the co-ordinating entity. The scheme could involve an entire farm or any subdivision thereof.

The total costs (land transactions and development costs) would be financed by the uniform public support and a loan from a private bank, as well as by own equity contributions in cash, kind or labour, and any other private contributions the seller or the beneficiaries may be able to mobilise.

Once the settlement project is developed, it is presented to the bank for financing, either in the form of a group loan, individual loan, or a combination of the two. The disbursement of the public support to the seller of the land, agents, developers, or beneficiaries could be handled by the same bank which provides the loan.

The actual loan terms would be defined by the financial intermediary (bank). The interest rate would be the going market rate for long-term real estate loans as defined by the financial intermediary. A grace period could be granted, two or three years perhaps, and the full term could be around ten or fifteen years.

The private sector approach can have many variations:

1. individual homesteads with garden;

2. communities who hold land as a condominium or under communal tenure;

3. contract farming with the former owner or another commercial farmer or estate;

4. an irrigated model with market gardening for communities made up of female-headed households; families willing to adopt up orphans; or squatters; and

5. equity participation schemes with the former or a new owner of a commercial farm.

Community land purchase model

This model has many similarities to model 1 and 2, but it differs from them in that the community is in the driver seat for all decisions, while the implementing organisation only has enabling, supervisory, and disbursement functions. Most importantly, communities not only plan and execute their own settlement, but also search for the land they want to purchase and negotiate the price with the seller.

Implementing agencies for this model may be local governments, the Community Action Fund, or a private entity such as a bank or a consortium of banks.

In all other respects the community land purchase model is executed like a combination of the community participation and execution model, and the private sector models. All variants of the latter could be considered as options by the land purchasing community.

The Government of Zimbabwe estimates that the total cost of the land reform and resettlement programme is US$1.1 billion. This will cover costs of;

land acquisition and development.

Infrastructure and services (roads, water, first crop tillage, schools and clinics).

Farmer support and credit facilities.

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