THE land question was always at the core of Zimbabwe’s history; from the First Uprising/First Chimurenga, to the Second and Third Chimurenga.

In 1973, Herbert Chitepo, on a trip to Australia, said in a speech:“I could go into the whole theories of discrimination in legislation, in residency, in economic opportunities, in education. I could go into that, but I will restrict myself to the question of land because I think this is very basic. To us the essence of exploitation, the essence of white domination, is domination over land. That is the real issue.” 

Land is a scarce resource, a cornerstone for development and reconstruction; a key socio-economic resource in any country. 

Production, reproduction, protection, redistribution, social cohesion/nation-building and human capability functioning are anchored on land as a key asset and resource. 

Land has social, economic and political value to those who own, control and use it. 

The life of all people worldwide depends on availability and use of the land.  

Ownership, control and use of land creates and guarantees source of security, income, power, livelihoods, freedom and wellbeing, 

Socio-economic policies of any country cannot be divorced from its core resource such as land. Accordingly, the socio-economic and political development of any country cannot be delinked from its ownership, use and control over its land.

Those who depend on land but do not own it, or own unproductive land, are vulnerable to poverty and other socio-economic disadvantages.  

As a key resource, land is essential in creating, transforming and sustaining human capability functioning and welfare. 

It is well-known that the ownership and use of land, are a guarantor against economic downturns.

In Zimbabwe, analysis of conflict over land, and the quest for ways of resolving such conflicts and the wellbeing of the majority cannot be understood adequately without reference to colonial land accumulation by dispossession as well as the over-arching historical and contemporary importance of land.

In colonial Zimbabwe, land acquisition for speculative purposes was the precursor to land acquisition for agricultural production as an economic activity, under the euphemism of ‘white agricultural policy’, which commenced in 1908.  

Its successful realisation was, however, grounded on the continued dispossession of the indigenous African of the best land and the destruction of his property during the years of colonisation in 1908-1914. 

By 1914, white settlers, numbering only 23 730 owned 19 032 320 acres of land while an estimated 752 000 Africans occupied a total of 21 390 080 acres of land. 

Put differently, over 802 acres were allocated to each white settler against under only 30 acres for each lawful indigene.

The question of inequitable land ownership had always been the Zimbabwean Government’s goal to address.  

Where the average size of a commercial farm was over 1 000 ha, the average size of a communal farm was less than 10 ha.  

This discriminatory distribution of land was a result of the Lancaster House Agreement to protect white farmers from losing their land under the newly independent Zimbabwean Government.

There was also a vast discrepancy between the quality of farming that took place on commercial farms as compared to communal farms; many Zimbabwean economists argued that this was due to property rights, whereby commercial settler-farmers had title deeds to the land and therefore had access to loans for equipment while the indigenous majority struggling on communal farming areas suffered from ‘the tragedy of the commons’. 

At independence, in 1980, the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe comprised three sub-sectors: 

The large-scale commercial farming sub-sector of 6 000 white farmers, who owned 15,5 million hectares, more than half of which lay in the high rainfall agro-ecological regions where the potential for agricultural production stands highest;

the small-scale commercial farming sub-sector comprising 8 500 indigenous farmers who held only 1,4 million ha of agricultural land, mostly located in the drier agro-ecological regions of the country and 

the communal areas, inhabited by the bulk of the indigenous population of 4,3 million people working on 16,4 million ha of agricultural land, 75 percent of which was located in the drier agro-ecological regions where the soils are poor.

The massive land dispossession and supportive economic and social policies that were aimed at safeguarding the wellbeing and prosperity of the white settlers were key features of colonialism in Zimbabwe. 

These included the Rudd Concession; Native Reserve Order in Council of 1898; Land Apportionment Act of 1930; the Maize Control Act of 1931; the Cattle Levy Act; the Land Acquisition Scheme; the Land Husbandry Act of 1951, and the Land Tenure Act of 1969 

The Rudd Concession was countered by the Lippert Land Concession of April 1889, deceitfully obtained from Lobengula, reflecting competing European and German interests and aspiration to acquire territory. 

The Lippert Concession was purchased by the British South Africa Company (BSAC); by which time the Company had already made extensive land grants to the settlers in Mashonaland.

The above were all direct and indirect efforts meant to alienate the indigenous population from their land, livestock and labour so that they could be a reserve of cheap labour for the white settlers. 

These legal instruments resulted in unequal and repressive agrarian relations that emerged from these policies and increased poverty among the indigenous majority. 

The extensive land dispossessions and supporting discriminatory policies initiated and fuelled race-based conflicts in Zimbabwe’s land tenure. 

White commercial agriculture was typically characterised by a lot of land that was unutilised or underutilised, held by absentee landlords or just left derelict for speculative purposes. 

At Independence, in 1980, over 15 million ha were devoted to large-scale white-owned commercial farming. 

This fell to around 12 million ha by 1999; partly through a negligible Land Reform and Resettlement Programme, funded mainly by the British Government under the terms of the Lancaster House Agreement and partly because some of the initial land acquisition was facilitated by the fact that many former white farmers had abandoned their land during the liberation war years. 

When Government embarked on the Fast Track Land Reform Programme, it was against the background of the land occupations by the impatient landless people; absence of international support for land reform, notwithstanding Government’s desire to engage the former colonial power and the international community, and the continued legal challenges by the white commercial farmers. 

The programme, launched on July 15 2000, was a fundamental departure from previous philosophy, practices and procedures of acquiring land and resettling people. 

It was designed to be undertaken with reliance on domestic resources, in an accelerated manner.  

Does it follow that the Fast Track Land Reform Programme has finally resolved the land issue?

Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant, lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. 

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