ZIMBABWE, under the leadership of former President Robert Mugabe, was one of the first countries to implement land redistribution of this nature.
Even though, according to some analysts, the process of land acquisition was “…complex, cumbersome and tedious to execute… the procedure for compulsory acquisition of land is so elaborate…,” even after the amendments to the law.
New legislation to supplement the original laws were promulgated to provide for the fast track programme and to legalise processes.
The Rural Land Occupiers (Protection from Eviction) Act of June 2001 protected squatters who occupied land from eviction for a period of 12 months (originally six months), up to February 2001, without following the proper procedures and suspended the application of court orders for eviction.
In November 2001, former President Mugabe used his Presidential Powers to amend the Land Acquisition Act, with retroactive effect to May 2000.
The new provisions meant ownership of designated land was transferred immediately, irrespective of any court challenge, to the acquiring authority and served as a 90-day eviction notice for the previous owner, with penalties for non-compliance including imprisonment of up to two years.
Under the amended Act, the Government had the right to stop all farming operations on affected farms, at any time, after the serving of a Section 8 notice.
Agricultural production on some commercial farms continued; especially where the white settlers had adopted a realistic approach for coexistence, or where land committees operated to resolve disputes.
Nonetheless, by late September 2001, the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) estimated that 31 percent of their members were experiencing total or partial work stoppages on their farms.
Following an agreement with the Zimbabwe Government on land reform brokered by the Commonwealth in Abuja, Nigeria, in November 2001, the CFU, in response to the Fast Track Land Reform Programme and land occupations, formally announced the launch of the Zimbabwe Joint Resettlement Initiative (ZJRI), based on a proposal they had submitted to Government in May 2001.
Under the initiative, the CFU offered 562 farms to the Government, representing one million hectares of land, distributed across the country, together with assistance for newly resettled farmers.
However, land occupations did not cease.
Meanwhile, a court order to evict squatters from the land was overturned, by the same court, in November 2001 on the grounds that the Government’s Land Reform Programme was now lawful.
The judgment accepted the Government’s argument that new legislation had retroactively legalised occupations that had been carried out in violation of what were, until then, the legal procedures.
At the same time, in November 2001, the Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement launched/applied regulations limiting maximum farm sizes to units ranging from 250-to-400 hectares in the main arable areas and 2 000 hectares in the grazing areas.
Initially, there were no formal guidelines for the land allocations which were made through ‘offer letters’.
Though the land acquisition was backed by legislation, actual land allocation, initially, was considered to have no legal backing apart from the administrative offer letters that were assigned by ministers and other high-level officials, which confirmed an individual’s right to the land after the allocation. Many of the beneficiaries who moved to new plots, or those who might otherwise do so, were said to be worried about the lack of security of title.
Similarly, many newly-resettled people were unable to work on the land and make it productive due to a lack of ownership documents or financial resources.
With no security of tenure on the farms, banks were reluctant to extend loans to the new farmers.
Many questioned the legal procedures and the absence of legal security, mainly due to the speed the fast track resettlement process was undertaken, without the appropriate resources to support the relocations, short-circuiting legal procedures.
Among the farms initially listed for resettlement were properties reported to be totally unsuitable for the purpose, including land flooded under dams, land already resettled or land at the time used for industrial purposes.
Thus, during the various phases of land reforms, repeated changes were necessitated in the ‘quality’ of land targeted for redistribution and the means by which the reform was to be implemented, as well as the amount of land to be distributed.
Several ministries and committees at the national and local level were engaged in the initiative.
According to official Government documents, the identification of land for compulsory acquisition under the fast track process was co-ordinated by a National Land Identification Committee, chaired by the Vice-President’s Office.
Four ministries were officially involved, namely: ministries of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement; Local Government, Public Works and National Housing; Rural Resources and Water Development; and Environment and Tourism.
At district and provincial levels, Provincial Land Identification committees chaired by the Provincial Administrator co-ordinated implementation and a technical committee shortlisted and evaluated applications.
This structure was duplicated at district level where committees were chaired by the District Administrator.
Representatives of Rural District Councils, traditional leaders, and war veterans were all members of these committees.
Despite claims by critics of the land reform only benefitting Government bureaucrats or ‘cell-phone farmers’ (absentee farmers), a study reported that of around seven million hectares of land redistributed via the land reform (or 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s area), 49,9 percent of those who received land were rural peasants, 18,3 percent were ‘unemployed or in low-paid jobs in regional towns, growth points and mines’, 16,5 percent were civil servants and 6,7 percent were of the Zimbabwean working class while 4,8 percent of the land went to business people with 3,7 percent going to security services.
A total of 237 858 indigenous Zimbabwean households had been provided with access to land under the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme by 2011.
A total of 10 816 886 hectares of land had been acquired since 2000, compared to the 3 498 444 purchased from willing sellers between 1980 and 1998.
On September 12 2005, Parliament passed a constitutional amendment that nationalised farmland acquired through the fast-track process.
By 2013, every white-owned farm in Zimbabwe had been either expropriated or targeted for future redistribution.
The compulsory acquisition of farmlands, without compensation, was discontinued in early 2018.
By 2015, more than seven million hectares (17,3 million acres) of land were reported to have been redistributed since 2000; justified as ‘compensation for colonialism’.
More than 3 500 white farmers were dispossessed, sometimes forcibly, while a million indigenous Zimbabweans were resettled on their land.
A number of new medium-sized farms were created; but by and large, the land was redistributed to small-scale new indigenous farmers.
The land redistribution exercise meant that thousands of formerly dispossessed indigenous Zimbabwean people were rightfully given a new lease of life and land.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant, lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For views and comments, email: firstname.lastname@example.org