The willing-buyer-willing-seller Lancaster Constitution arrangement unfortunately made the success of the Resettlement Programme very much dependent on the ‘good will’ of the European settler-farmers and, as expected, they refused to offer the huge tracts of land the Government required, so that by 1988, only about
42 000 families had been resettled on about 2 600 000 hectares of land, writes Dr Felix Muchemwa in his book The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe (1890-2010) that The Patriot is serialising.
The Land Reform and Resettlement Programme
BY 1979, the African population in the communal lands had exceeded sustainable capacity by about 2 000 000 people (Herbst, 1990:p.41) and, ever since 1890, the inequitable land distribution had doomed most peasants to ever-worsening poverty in the over-populated rural areas.
Yet, the Lancaster House Agreement had removed the land issue from Zimbabwe’s top priorities.
Section V of the Lancaster House Conference Paper No.19 had been engraved in its totality as Section 16 of the Zimbabwe Lancaster House Constitution and the section demanded that all land to be acquired by the Zimbabwe Government from the European settler farmers had to be acquired on a willing-buyer-willing-seller basis, and had to be fully compensated for in foreign currency. (Lancaster House Constitution, Section 16)
This meant that while the Lancaster House Agreement of December 1979 had brought political independence, it had failed to enable an estimated six million Africans to reclaim their ancestral land from only
6 000 European settler farmers.
The 6 000 European settler-farmers held 15 500 000 hectares of the land, comprising virtually all prime agricultural land mainly on the Zimbabwean Highveld in natural regions I, II, III and IV.
The arrangement boiled down to an average of 2 474 hectares of land per individual European settler-farmer against 23 hectares of land per African family in the communal Tribal Trust Lands. (Herbst, 1990:p.39)
Phase One of the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme:
April 1980 – November 1997
The population desperately needing land for resettlement was 800 000 families. As Prime Minister of Zimbabwe then, Comrade Robert Mugabe had observed: ‘We can never have peace in this country unless the peasant population is satisfied in relation to the land issue’. (The Herald, October 29 1981)
The Land Reform Programme was, therefore, aimed at decongesting the overpopulated and barren communal areas. It (was) also intended to alleviate poverty among the rural folk. (The Herald, September 9 1998, p.1)
Phase 1 of the Resettlement Programme initially aimed to resettle 18 000 families on 1 100 000 hectares of land (Stiff, 2000: 288) over a period of 12 years.
In 1982, the target was revised upwards to 162 000 families to be resettled on
10 500 000 hectares of land over a period of 12 years.
If implemented, this would still have left 5 000 000 hectares of land under the control of 6 000 European settler-farmers. (Hungwe, p.141)
The challenges that confronted the Government were inevitable.
Under Section V (1) of the Lancaster House Agreement only ‘underutilised land’ was made available as resettlement land for agricultural purposes. (Conference Paper No.19, Section V.1)
This meant that much of such ‘underutilised land’ would be land that had been abandoned during the liberation war and was, therefore, not on fully operational farms!
Such land would mostly be in the Manicaland Province, close to the Mozambican border. (Herbst, 1990:p.53)
A natural result of this condition was that 91 percent of the land purchased for resettlement was in poor rainfall areas and with little surface water and, therefore, not suitable for agricultural purposes. (Herald, August 8 1984)
Another side to underutilised land was that out of the millions of hectares possessed by European settler-farmers, only 750 000 hectares were ever intensively cropped by the European settler-farmers in any one season.
Many of the European settler-farms were no longer owner-operated farms but were serving more as an extended family social security system rather than productive agricultural farm entities. (Muir-Leresche, 2006)
The problem of funding was not entirely unexpected. It is what would have been expected of a country that had been ravaged by a protracted liberation war.
The result was that during the period 1980-1982, the Zimbabwe Government only managed to resettle 8 600 families on 520 000 hectares of land. (Herbst, 1990: pp.45-46)
In the 1982-1983 fiscal year, 54 000 families were targeted but only 20 000 families were budgeted for. (Herbst, 1990: p.47)
And, even so, the number ultimately resettled in the three years from 1980 to 1983 was only 18 000 families.
The willing-buyer-willing-seller Lancaster Constitution arrangement unfortunately made the success of the Resettlement Programme very much dependent on the ‘good will’ of the European settler farmers and, as expected, they refused to offer the huge tracts of land the Government required, so that by 1988, only about 42 000 families had been resettled on about 2 600 000 hectares of land. (Stiff, 2000: p.289)
Even then, what was offered was not prime land. It was, conversely, mostly agro-ecologically marginal land quite unsuitable for crop cultivation and grazing. (Hungwe, p.146)
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the European settler-farmers sold and bought more and better-soiled land in good rainfall areas among themselves. (Hungwe, p.148)
This dishonesty is what prompted the Government to pass the Land Acquisition Act No. 21 of 1985.
Section 6 of the Act gave the Zimbabwe Government the right of first refusal on any farmland which was being offered for sale. (Zimbabwe Land Acquisition Act, No.21, 1985, Section. 6)
Section 27 of the same Act also established a Derelict Lands Board, to enable legal seizure of land abandoned by European settler-farmers. (Zimbabwe Land Acquisition Act, 1985, Section 27)
The price of land
In 1988, the prices of land per hectare on the open market suddenly shot up from ZW$15,76 in 1980 to an exorbitant ZW$92,24 (D) in 1988. (Hungwe, p.148)
The money was hard to come by and so, land for resettlement in 1988 dried up.
Neither land nor money was available for the resettlement of the 162 000 peasant families, let alone the total 800 000 peasant families who desperately needed land to live on. (Herbst, 1990: p.45)
The unsurprising result was that by 1989, only about 52 000 peasant families had been resettled on 2 800 000 hectares of land (Hungwe, p.143) of which only about 25 percent was prime land in regions I, II and III.
In a case brought before the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe by the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) on December 3 2001, it was revealed that of the 33 000 000 hectares of agricultural land in Zimbabwe, 14 000 000 hectares constituting the best of it was owned by 4 000 European settler-farmers who were fully utilising only 40 percent of that land. (The Herald, December 4 2001, p.1)
UK complicity with white
There was ‘every sign that the British Government (was) striving behind the scenes to perpetuate Lancaster House beyond April 1990 and so prevent significant land reform from taking place’. (Palmer, 1990, p.163-4)
It is worth noting that although the number of European settler-farmers had decreased from 6 000 in 1979 to 4 300 in 1989 (Hungwe, p.143), they were still dictating the terms on land acquisition for resettlement.
They still held more than 39 percent of all land in Zimbabwe and 90 percent of all arable land. (Stiff, 2000: p.295)
By 1990, the number had declined to about 4 000 (Herbst, 1990: p.37), but still these few European settler-farmers held almost all the land on the Zimbabwean Highveld agricultural regions I, II, III and IV clandestinely and illegally against the Land Acquisition Act No. 21, 1985, Section 6 which gave the Zimbabwe Government the right of first refusal on any farmland on sale.
The European settler-farmers continued to sell and buy more and better-soiled land in good rainfall areas among themselves. (Hungwe, p.148)
They were strictly adhering to the Lancaster House Constitutional requirements, while totally disregarding the Land Acquisition Act of 1985 which they regarded as unconstitutional and impinging on their constitutional right to sell their land on a willing-buyer-willing-seller basis. (Hungwe p.148)