Zim@44: Why Independence, land and its maximum use matter

Sifelani Tsiko, [email protected]

A Zimbabwe without land doesn’t exist. Land defines who we are as Zimbabweans.

Throughout Zimbabwe’s history, land has been at the heart of the conflict between settlers and indigenous populations.

When Zimbabwe was annexed by British colonialists in the 1880s, the development of the colony became tied to settler colonialism, mineral exploitation, ranching and the establishment of a colony which led to the expropriation of vast tracts of native land.

The white minority settlers took land by violent means, annexing rich and fertile lands. As they ventured into most parts of the country, the white settlers encountered violent opposition from the local black communities.

The massacre of a few settlers led to a series of reprisals aimed at pacifying the majority of black people — spirit mediums and warriors were beheaded, villages were burned, crops were destroyed, and lands were confiscated and redistributed to colonists.

When white settlers “discovered” Zimbabwe, they found the land occupied by indigenous communities scattered along mountains, savannahs, river valleys and everywhere.

It was this social space of family residence, agricultural lands, water channels and hunting and gathering territories that formed the basis for ritual, economic, political, and social activity for us as black people.

The traditional social structure was closely related to a set of spatial reference points — homestead sites, inhabited places, and various other natural features — all of which were carefully inventoried and served to delimit the rights of the human population over its lands and waters.

In short, it was the land that bound our people together. 

For several centuries, land and politics were deeply intertwined in Zimbabwe.

The loss of land by the majority of the people was at the centre of the liberation struggle. Land was an emotive issue that forced blacks to take arms to fight for it.

Blood was sacrificed for land. Thousands of people lost their lives for the liberation of the country. In essence, they lost their lives for the land called Zimbabwe.

In 1979, at the Lancaster House talks, an equitable redistribution of land for the landless people was sought without damaging the white farmers’ vital contribution to Zimbabwe’s economy that accounted for some 40 percent of exports and provided a livelihood for over 30 percent of the paid workforce while generating 80 percent of the country’s total agricultural output.

Land reform in Zimbabwe was at the centre of the Lancaster House Agreement, with the British and the Americans making several concessions to support it, in return for peace and security for their own kith and kin.

At independence from Britain in 1980, many will recall that the newly-elected government was empowered to initiate the necessary land reforms.

The late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government agreed to finance half the cost of this reform, as long as land was bought and sold on a willing-buyer-willing- seller basis, in an effort to more equitably distribute land between the marginalised indigenous subsistence farmer and the white settlers, many with vast underutilised tracts of land.

Since then, it remained a major source of political conflict, as the willing buyer, willing seller — Lancaster House model failed to ensure social justice for the majority of the landless people in the country. 

The willing buyer, willing seller land reform model was fraught with ambiguities and subtle schemes to further protect whites who continued to own vast tracts of land after independence in 1980.

Zimbabweans, the original inhabitants of the land, continued to wallow in poverty without adequate land at a time when the black population was also growing.

In the late 1990s, war veterans of the 1970s armed struggle became agitated and pushed former President Cde Robert Mugabe to embark on a ‘fast track’ land redistribution campaign, forcibly confiscating white farms without compensation.

The country’s land redistribution attracted global attention and became the most crucial and most bitterly contested political issue.

It is worth noting that at the crucial Lancaster House talks, both ZANU and ZAPU leaders, Cde Mugabe and Cde Joshua Nkomo respectively, insisted on compulsory land redistribution by seizure, without compensation, as a precondition to a negotiated peace settlement.

What later happened after 1990 is all history. 

The Government stood firm despite the imposition of sanctions, which are still in place even up to now, to implement the land reform programme.

It was a necessary commitment to alleviate overpopulation in the former tribal trust lands (TTLs — now known as communal areas) to extend the production potential of small-scale subsistence farmers and improve the standards of living of rural Zimbabweans.

It was the epitome of correcting historical wrongs, social injustice and economic inequalities of the past.

Some 4 500 white farmers who occupied nearly 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s fertile and rich lands were dispossessed and a million black Zimbabweans were resettled.

A number of new medium-sized farms, as well as large sized land farms, were redistributed to small-scale farmers – and to people who were keen to go into farming.

Since 2000, despite numerous challenges, the new black farmers have transformed the country’s agricultural sector, finding new opportunities in tobacco, horticulture and crop exports.

Under the new dispensation, production has been the major watchword. 

Productivity gives meaning to our struggle for land.

The Government has ramped up efforts to build new dams, revive irrigation schemes, spur agricultural mechanisation, promote good crop and animal husbandry practices, as well as increase the provision of finance and inputs to boost production.

As we move towards celebrating our Independence Day on April 18, we must embrace President Mnangagwa’s call for beneficiaries of the Land Reform Programme to optimally use their land to ensure food security.

“Allow me to state that, our land reform will never be reversed. It is sacred, complete and finished,” he once remarked in 2019.

“We remain firm and unshakable on this matter. Now the challenge for us is to be productive as we modernise and mechanise our agriculture processes. We must equally use our land sustainably, be it in agriculture, mining or tourism so that we bequeath it to future generations.” 

Land remains a vital cog for boosting the country’s economic recovery. 

In good years with adequate rains, Zimbabwe got a bumper crop harvest enhancing its own food security.

In 2023, the country harvested a high of 2,8 million tonnes of maize, a huge jump from the 908 000 tonnes of maize harvested in 2022.

And this year, despite a ravaging drought, the country will harvest at least one million tonnes of maize.

The Government says it has 450 000 tonnes of cereals in the strategic grain reserve which, with imports and the next harvest, will ensure food security in the wake of poor yields due to an El–Nino–induced drought.

Land and independence are intertwined. The two cannot be separated. Land still remains an important vehicle for attaining Vision 2030 and its goals on food security. 

Zimbabwe firmly recognises the centrality of land and farming in the attainment of the Vision 2030 goals.

And above everything else — LAND — is a critical ingredient to this year’s theme: Zim@44: Unity, Peace and Development — Towards Vision 2030.



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