Free land no longer free.
In the biggest about turn for the party that fought for independence, ZANU PF government is considering 99-year leases that will see rentals charged annually, it said in a document obtained by Bloomberg News and confirmed by Lands and Rural Settlements Minister Douglas Mombeshora. The war for independence in Zimbabwe was fought primarily because of the unfair distribution of land between the races in Zimbabwe. The Lancaster House agreement talks almost failed because of the issue of land reform.
“The three-month-long conference almost failed to reach an accord due to disagreements on land reform. Mugabe was pressured to sign and land was the key stumbling block. Both the British and American governments offered to compensate white citizens for any land sold so as to aid reconciliation (the “Willing buyer, Willing seller” principle) and a fund was established, to operate from 1980 to 1990.”source.
So what went wrong? According to the government not enough white farmers wanted to sell their land and they were forced to forcibly take the land away as they could not afford the exorbitant prices the farmers wanted for the land.
About 8.5m acres was given to 72,000 black families. It was paid for by the UK with £44m in aid – the only money of the promised hundreds of millions ever to materialize. Many of those small-scale farmers lacked the tools and skills to turn the land into more than the barest means of survival.
By the time the constitutional bar on the compulsory purchase of land fell away in 1990, neither Mugabe nor the white farmers took land redistribution seriously. White tobacco planters made so much money that some built landing strips for their new planes. These men counted themselves among Mugabe’s allies, and saw no great threat.
The government did pass laws permitting it to forcibly buy up land, and purchased over 200 farms with the stated aim of creating a class of black commercial farmers. But by then land was a tool of political patronage and most of the farms went to ruling party officials and army officers.
In August 1997, a commission of inquiry was appointed to look into abuses in the payment system (the Chidyausiku Commission), provoking a split in the WVA between those who supported and those who opposed the investigation. In September of that year, at the Zanu-PF summit, Mugabe bowed to pressure and announced a package for veterans that included a once-off payment of Z$50,000 to each veteran, and a Z$2,000 per month pension for life. It was not clear how the state would pay for this commitment. The pledge, however, gave some war veterans an interest in the continued rule of Zanu-PF; by mid-1999, the WVA faction led by Chenjerai Hitler Hunzvi, who was to be a key figure in leading the land invasions of 2000, was clearly close to the government. Skip ahead to the year 2000. The veterans of the war of independence invaded and took over farms from white farmers and began distributing it among themselves. In a bid to control the situation, the government decided to force the new black farmers off the land in order to control the redistribution of land.
However this whole episode led to the complete destruction of the Zimbabwean economy. Additional laws passed restricting press freedom, forcing private company ownership shareholding levels and corruption led to a massive exodus of people and capital from Zimbabwe. Most fled to South Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia. Major industries began to die out under the strain. Eventually even the National Railway System that was arguably the most advanced in Africa ceased to operate. The economy came to a grounding halt.
Last month feeling the strain of acute forex reserves, the government banned a large variety of products from being imported igniting already strained relations with the general population. The once allied war veterans are now being rounded up and imprisoned.
So this story that is taking place now with the requirement of the new owners to pay for the land they fought for at Independence, they waited 20 years to get after independence. The same land they were assured by their government was land that belonged to them in the first place. They are now being asked to pay to remain on this same land. The land question in Zimbabwe has always been a complicated one. Simplification of saying the white farmers needed to leave and replaced with black farmers was a problem. Some of the white farmers were third (3rd) generation Zimbabweans with no ties to any other country. Were they not deserving of the land? The new black farmers whose land was taken over by colonial governments and were given their land back, were they not entitled to the land.
In order to fix a temporary cash flow problem, the government seeks to create a problem that has far reaching consequences. One in which the outcome is uncetain. Zimbabwe is already burning. This move by the government will alienate the few remaining supporters in rural Zimbabwe and further destabilize the country.