- Zimbabwe's Land Reform: Myths and Realities
Land arouses deep emotions in people, creating economic, social, and political instability. With its ownership comes the potential for a steady flow of income and the accumulation of wealth, as without it there is often deprivation, poverty, and a confinement to the margins of society. No meaningful discussion of land reform in Zimbabwe can proceed without the background knowledge that made it necessary for reform to take place.
As in most places in the colonial world where colonialists (mostly Europeans) decided to settle, as opposed to simply extracting what they could and leave the "natives" to themselves, land became the means that allowed them to derive a living. At the same time, the acquisition of land meant dispossessing the indigenous people of it. Before independence in 1980, when minority white rule ended in Zimbabwe, 50.8 percent of the land was reserved for white settlers, and 30 percent for the majority indigenous African population. At independence in 1980, the ratio was 40 percent for whites and 40 percent for Africans. Further, the land given to white settlers was the fertile central highlands, while the land given to the Africans was mostly in the mountainous escarpment regions (the communal areas).
With a few white people and a large African population, and an unequal distribution of land, there were bound to be different intensities of usage and productivity. In the 1960s, the population density in the African areas was 46 people per square mile and only one per square mile in the white areas. This disparity in land allocation combined with state support to the white settlers in the form of subsidized loans, communication, and other infrastructure, led to high productivity among the landowning white settlers and translated into wide disparities in wages.
There was no question that after independence, land redistribution would have to redress the past inequities: the question was how to do it so that it would cause the least friction and economic disruption. The Kenyan model, under which funds were provided to buy land from white settlers, and which was the model planned for Zimbabwe, suffered a setback in implementation because of a lack of funds and the additional provision that there must be willing sellers and willing buyers. Land redistribution from white settlers to Africans therefore became contingent on finding enough white farmers who were willing to sell and enough funds to buy them out. [End Page 125]
In the period immediately after the war, when some white settlers fled, land was available for purchase and redistribution, and no friction or disruption in economic activity occurred. When this supply of land dried up, and more and more people sought land (war veterans and increased population in the communal areas), the situation became a time bomb, waiting to explode. With this as a background, the government invoked its powers to expropriate land, and people forcibly began to occupy white owned-lands, in the 2000s.
In theory, it should be relatively easy to separate the problems Zimbabwe encountered in the 2000s because of the government's mismanagement of the economy and the ensuing problems from Fast Track Land Reform (FTLR) and forced occupation of land. In practice, writers have not bothered to do so and have lumped these problems together. There may be a good reason for this. Some have argued that the economic collapse of the Zimbabwean economy stemmed from the white flight, as a result of FTLR and forced occupation, which led to the loss of confidence in the economy by the international community. Regardless of the causes, there have been what the authors term "myths" about land reform, and in this book, Zimbabwe's Land Reform: Myths and Realities, Ian Scoones and his coauthors seek to set the record straight, through empirical investigation of what happened after the FTLR began.
The general perception in the years following FTLR in Zimbabwe has been that the land reform was a total failure, beneficiaries of the reform were mostly...