‘Land issue not well understood’

In terms of seeking a resolution to the crisis in Zimbabwe at the time, the land reform experience of Kenya was influential.

As with Zimbabwe, Kenya had had a comparable land problem and a guerrilla war fuelled by land grievances. In the case of Kenya, the British sought to defuse the situation (as that which occurred in Zimbabwe) by buying out white farmers. (If only Odinga knew he would not sing praises of the British).

In buying out the white farmers, the British made available 500 million British pounds for land acquisition and resettlement support in Kenya.

It was, however, hoped that a similar solution could be found for Zimbabwe. Thus, during the secret negotiations with the British in the mid-1970s, the notion of the Anglo-American Development Fund for Zimbabwe was promoted.

This fund received broad support, including backing from the then ZANU/ZAPU Patriotic Front. This fund, to which the British agreed to contribute 75 million pounds, was to be used towards purchasing farms owned by the few white farmers for resettling the indigenous landless Zimbabweans.

Supporting the cause, the United States at the time, hinted that it would contribute an extra US$200 million to the fund. (This is why Britain and America are on the fore-front of attacking Zimbabwe because they have been working together in protecting the white farmers in Zimbabwe).

However, as we will see in the following paragraphs, this fund failed to materialise.(Where then was the money to buy the farms from white farmers going to come from)

In 1979, the Lancaster House negotiatians that sought the independence of Zimbabwe started. By the time, these negotiations took place, there had been a change in government in the United Kingdom.

And during the Lancaster House negotiations, as clever and as smart as the British have always wanted to be, used the Anglo-American Development Fund as a bait to get the liberation movements ZANU/ZAPU to reach an agreement with the Rhodesian authorities under Ian Douglas Smith who was the Prime Minister at that time.

Realising that their goal of making the Zimbabwe liberation movements agree to the Lancaster House Agreement had been achieved, the British withdrew the offer of the fund and instead the UK government offered a compromise solution.

In exchange for guaranteeing existing property rights in the new Zimbabwe, the UK was to underwrite half of the costs of the resettlement of the black indigenous people of Zimbabwe with the Zimbabwe government having to match that funding to make up the full costs of the resettlement programe. The UK, in 1980 soon after Zimbabwe attained its independence on April 18, pledged an initial amount of 20 million British pounds.

There was also a condition that land was to change hands through a willing seller/willing buyer mechanism with the white farmers who wanted to continue farming being free to do so.

It was also conditional that there would be no mass expropriation of land by the new post-colonial state, resulting in the State retaining the right to expropriate land for public and resettlement purposes with compensation of the farms taken having to be paid to the white farmers in foreign currency.

Because of presure from the Frontline States (which later transformed into SADC), Zimbabwe’s liberation movements, ZANU and ZAPU, conceded and accepted the settlement.

The restrictions imposed by the Lancaster House Agreement were again to remain in place for 10 years after the attainment of independence in 1980. As a result of this “crucial capitulation” (Palmer 1990:166), the hands of the new Zimbabwe government under the leadership of Robert Mugabe were effectively tied in relation to agrarian transformation and effectively ruled out any significant redistribution of land.

Compounding these restrictions was the fact that following the war of liberation, there was an urgent need for reconstruction and measures to address mass displacement and the collapse of peasant production. Moreover, as a result of the collapse of the peasant agriculture, 90 percent of the country’s marketed food requirements were being produced by white farmers.

This ironically placed white farmers in a strong position (economically and politically) at the end of the war of liberation. The restrictions imposed through the Lancaster House Agreement remained a constant theme in Zimbabwean land reform in the decades following independence.

The willing buyer/willing seller concept failed to work completely with very few white owned farms coming onto the market. This made it difficulty for the Zimbabwean government to make advance planning while at the same time the white farmers held onto their core productive land and offered marginal holdings only.

Because the white farmers had their union, the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) which was a strong union, they made sure that the union worked tirelessly to protect the interests of its members. The union consistently and still argues that rapid land reform would undermine white confidence and threaten export earnings and employment.

To remain a strong union and influence the Zimbabwe government to accept some of the union’s demands, about 10 government ministers and over 500 black members were included in the CFU in 1989. This bolstered the union’s position with the Zimbabwe government being lured into believing that the union was working together with government in its efforts to redress the land imbalances.

The union was thus largely responsible for ensuring that the position of the white commercial farmers remained secure (at least up to the 1990s) through courting government over a range of issues.

Through having the ear of the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture as well as influence in the seven ministries involved in the resettlement programme, the CFU was able to successfully slow the pace of resettlement.

By 1983, already there was increasing pressure on the domestic budget of Zimbabwe with the government also coming under increasing pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as western donor governments to undertake belt-tightening measures.

The Zimbabwe government had no choice but to comply to the pressures and went on to cut back on funding resettlement while funding of newly established schools and clinics continued. This explains why one of the legacies that Mugabe will be remembered for is the transformation of education since independence. In the colonial times Africans were only given education that enabled them to become more efficient workers in agriculture and industry and perhaps render more efficient services to their European employers.

It was thus equally significant to take cognisance of the fact that as noted earlier, the conditionalities imposed by Lancaster House Agreement have been the central issue of contention in Zimbabwe and has been especially significant in shaping the relationship between the government of Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom.

August 2008
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