Failure of Promoting Land Reform Programs

The fast track program has thus violated rights to equal protection of the law, nondiscrimination, and due process. The violence accompanying land occupations has created fear and insecurity on white-owned commercial farms, in black communal areas, and in "fast track" resettled areas, and threatens to destabilize the entire Zimbabwean countryside. Where the blame should lie for the failure to change the racially skewed nature of land ownership in Zimbabwe over the two decades since minority rule was ended has been a key point in diplomatic interactions over the current land crisis.

Zimbabwe received financial assistance for land reform during the 1980s and 1990s from various governments. But conditions were put on the way that the money handed over could be used. The British government in particular, the former colonial power responsible for brokering the agreement that led to the 1980 transition to majority rule, has been protective of white farming interests in Zimbabwe and in the early years insisted on a market-based land redistribution policy.

The World Bank, another key donor, has itself acknowledged that the Economic Structural Adjustment Plan for Zimbabwe embarked on at its recommendation in 1991 had damaging social consequences, in particular by increasing poverty. The donor community also raised various problems with the way in which the funds provided for land redistribution were disbursed-not least that among the recipients of commercial farmland appropriated under land reform measures were a number of senior political leaders.

The Zimbabwean government countered the arguments not least on the basis that the money paid was as a matter of historical obligation rather than development assistance. The international donor community thus does not come with clean hands to the current fast track land reform process. Moreover, because the "fast track" process of resettlement is being carried out so rapidly, short-circuiting legal procedures, some of those who have moved onto new plots or those who might otherwise do so, expressed concern about the lack of certainty that their title to land will be secure.

Others who want land have not taken up the opportunity because they do not have the resources to plow the land and because there is little if any government support to assist new settlers. The absence of legal security and government assistance could leave them vulnerable to hunger and displacement. Development organizations following the crisis in Zimbabwe have noted that the disruption to commercial agriculture caused by fast track resettlement has endangered food security in Zimbabwe, usually a maize exporter.

In many ways, those most disadvantaged by the fast track land reform program are landless farm workers: large numbers of farm workers have been laid off from paid work; yet farm workers have not been among the groups targeted to benefit from land reallocations. Those who are descendants of Zambians, Malawians or Mozambicans brought to Zimbabwe as indentured labor during the colonial period may have additional difficulty in accessing the fast track resettlement schemes.

Despite government commitments to addressing gender inequality in land distribution, women, whose rights to land under customary law are weak, have also failed to benefit proportionately from the fast track process. Now, where the blame should lie for the failure to change the racially skewed nature of land ownership in Zimbabwe has been a key point in diplomatic interactions over the current land crisis. In the first two decades of independence, Zimbabwe received financial assistance from various governments, including Britain, which provided ? 44 million through a "land resettlement grant" and budgetary support to the Zimbabwe government.

The land resettlement grant was mostly spent by 1988 and formally expired in 1996. Conditions were put on the way that the money handed over could be used. Britain in particular, especially under the Conservative Party government in power from 1979 to 1997, favored redistribution based on government purchase of land from willing sellers at full market prices, a bias that contributed to the purchase of scattered, low-quality land for resettlement. In 1997, the new British Labor Party government proposed that its new policy directing development assistance to poverty alleviation guide its support for land reform.

But Minister for International Development Clare Short wrote to the Zimbabwean government stating that "we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. " The donor community also raised various problems with the way in which the funds provided for land redistribution were disbursed; arguments that the Zimbabwean government rejected not least on the basis that the money paid was as a matter of historical obligation rather than development assistance. Zimbabwe accused the new British government of following the same racist policies as its predecessors.

By 1999, eleven million hectares of the richest land were still in the hands of about 4,500 commercial farmers, the great majority of them white. Moreover, some farms purchased for redistribution had in fact been given to government ministers and other senior officials rather than to the landless peasantry. Most rural black Zimbabweans continued to suffer immense poverty. In the face of government failure to deliver, grassroots land occupations were already taking place in the 1980s and 1990s; in many cases government security forces then removed people from the land with some brutality.

This was particularly the case in the context of the conflict in the 1980s in Matabeleland between Zanu-PF and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu), the other main liberation movement, which drew its support base from among the Ndebele. By late 1997 and 1998, much larger scale occupations were taking place. But, despite occasional saber-rattling by the government, white farmers were mostly left undisturbed; several became prominent supporters of Zanu-PF.