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Centre of African Studies: Events


Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land

Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land
Speaker: Joe Hanlon # Department of International Development, London School of Economics and Development Policy and Practice Centre, Open University; Speaker: Teresa Smart # Institute of Education, University of London
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Date and Time
22nd Feb 2012 16:00 - 22nd Feb 2012 18:00
Seminar room 2, CMB, 15a George Square


Zimbabwe takes back its land

"The ultimate possessors of the land will be the people who can make the best use of it," said Godfrey Huggins, Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, in 1952. Sixty years later, it finally happened. But at his trial in 1976 for treating guerrillas in his hospital, Catholic Bishop Donal Lamont warned: "Were there to be an African government in this country – and indeed that seems inevitable, and very soon – and if the present laws which have been enacted and applied to create and preserve privilege – if these were retained and applied in reverse against the European, what a protest their would be! … Thousands of whites could be driven from their homes and farms without compensation." And that happened, too.

In 1930, the best half of Rhodesia's farmland was assigned to "Europeans", and tens of thousands of Zimbabweans were forced off that land onto the remaining, poorer soils. At independence, there were 6000 white farmers who still only used one-third of "European" land. The liberation war was fought over land, and in the early 1980s there was a first land reform – 1/5thof white farmland was given to 75,000 households. But white farmers kept the best land. Structural adjustment squeezed Zimbabwe badly in the 1990s, causing huge unemployment and stopped land reform. As well as widespread strikes and the creation of an opposition party, war veterans became more militant and in a direct challenge to Zanu-PF and President Robert Mugabe, led occupations of more than 1000 white farms in early 2000. Government resisted, then accepted and took credit. Some white farmers remain, but most of their land was taken over by 170,000 new farm families.

A decade later, land reform will not be reversed. Despite huge problems, by 2011 the land reform farmers were doing nearly as well as the white farmers they replaced. Hyperinflation in 2006-8 crippled the economy and forced everyone, including new farmers, into a barter system. But the adoption of the US$ as currency in 2009 caused a dramatic change. The economy as a whole is recovering quickly and production by land reform farmers jumped dramatically in the 2010/11 season.

This seminar will present recent findings on the reality of land reform farmers on the ground. Huge political and practical problems remain, in Zimbabwe as a whole and for new farmers. Having taken the initiative to occupy or at least open new farms, the land reform farmers have maintained the initiative and developed their land – despite political and economic problems. Production of tobacco, maize and some other crops should pass white farmer levels in the 2012 harvest.