A history of land, agriculture and …close look at ‘willing-buyer willing-seller’

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IN the first two decades of independence, the Zimbabwe Government received financial assistance for the resettlement programme, albeit with conditions on how the money could be used. 

Various governments, including Britain, provided ‘land resettlement grants’ — reaching £91 million by 1996, and an additional £100 million granted for budgetary support.  

The land resettlement grants, mostly spent by 1988, formally expired in 1996. 

The British Government, under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party, favoured land redistribution based on the purchase of land from willing sellers, at full market prices. 

This resulted in the purchase of scattered, mostly low-quality land for resettlement of indigenous people.

From 1985, before land could be sold, every vendor of land was required to obtain a ‘Certificate of no Present Interest’ in the land concerned from the Government.

In the early 1990s, once the Lancaster House Agreement had expired, the Government of Zimbabwe amended the provisions of the Constitution concerning property rights, especially the ‘willing buyer—willing seller’ clause.  

Thus the compulsory acquisition of commercial farms for redistribution and resettlement became possible.

The new Government, under President Robert Mugabe, no longer bound by the mandated ‘sunset clauses’ — the constitutional conditions entrenched in the Lancaster House Agreement that gave special protections to white farmers for the first 10 years of independence, outlined several ambitious plans for land reform.

Even so, by 1997 only 71 000 families had been resettled.

Zimbabwe holds a total land area of 39,6 million hectares. 

While thirty-three million hectares were reserved for agriculture with the remainder reserved for national parks, forests and urban settlements; an estimated 60 percent of white farming areas were either under-utilised or unused.

In 1992, the Land Acquisition Act gave the Government strengthened powers to acquire more land.

The National Land Policy formally proposed and enshrined as the 1992 Zimbabwean Land Acquisition Act, empowered the Government to acquire any land it deemed fit, for resettlement, subject to the payment of ‘fair’ financial compensation, fixed by a committee of six members; including powers to limit the size of farms and introduce a land tax. 

The aim of the National Land Policy was to create a just, democratic and efficient land economy that would include the majority of the people in the drive for national development. 

Its objectives formed the basis upon which the Land Acquisition Programme was crafted to ensure equitable and socially just access to land and democratise land tenure systems as well as ensure security of tenure for all forms of land holdings.

A Land Tenure Commission set up in 1994, recommended that a ‘land tax’ was the best way to achieve the vital land redistribution.  

Despite its recommendation, a land tax was never put in place and land acquisition and resettlement slowed down.

Although landowners were powerless to challenge the acquisition of land, each seller was free to negotiate the compensation price they sought for the land they sold. 

To be continued…

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