Sowing Political Capital and Harvesting Economic Regression: White Commercial Farm Seizures in Zimbabwe

Sowing Political Capital and Harvesting Economic Regression: White Commercial Farm Seizures in Zimbabwe

Francis Matambirofa
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7405-9.ch017
(Individual Chapters)
No Current Special Offers


Since 2000, Zimbabwe has embarked on an unplanned “land reform” referred to as the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP). The tumult experienced in its wake has infamously become known as the crisis in Zimbabwe. This chapter dissects and interrogates issues relating to competing variables such as land restorative and redistributive moral considerations, “hypocritical” political expedience, and, related to the latter, indigenous economic empowerment considerations that government used to justify FTLRP. The central hypothesis is that the economic and political crisis that FTLRP spawned was not, strictly speaking, “land reform,” but, by a figure of speech, only some aspirin that was meant to ease people's pain caused by economic and political challenges for which government did not have a solution. Adopting a stance of victim, underdog triumphalism, FTLRP was essentially a mischievous pretext for the ZANU(PF) government to coercively retain political power while sacrificing the economy, which inexorably imploded.
Chapter Preview


Zimbabwe has for more than a decade, starting from about 2000, largely remained globally (in)famous especially in the general opinion of the western world subsequent to the inauguration of the so-called, Fast-Track Land-Reform Programme (FTLRP). FTLRP is a violent, ZANU(PF) government endorsed and/or orchestrated extra-judiciary and populist seizure of mostly white-owned large scale commercial farms whose owners numbered about 4,500 (Kanyenze et al., 2011) under the pretext of resettling ‘landless’ indigenous blacks after the Labour-led British government discontinued the Lancaster House commitment to finance land reform. This chapter takes the broad view that the commencement of FTLRP that the ZANU (PF)-led government expediently endorsed was its capitulation to the demands of land hungry peasants and a powerful war veterans’ constituency. The entire project was thus precipitated and leveraged principally on crisscrossing causes of political anger by all the parties involved with land reform, comprising: the government of Zimbabwe which was angry both with Britain and the local white farmers for supporting the newly-formed opposition party – Movement for Democratic Change (MDC); war veterans and peasants who were now angry with government for its slow pace of resettling people; and Britain which was angry with abuses of grants for land reform. The manner through which FTLRP was inaugurated and delivered demonstrates no resemblance of sober investment of prior reflection on government’s part. It was largely a panicky, fire-fighting political survival strategy. The political dimension of the programme finds consonant commentary from Moyo, et al. (2008:351) who in their analysis of the Zimbabwe land question make the observation that ‘other criticisms have been that the government instituted the land reform programme for partisan political purposes…’ This is the same view that is expressed more directly by Matondi (2012:73) when he says that ‘Land reform was a political process, deriving legitimacy from complex historical, economic and social contexts’. Seizing on the moral high ground of righting a colonial wrong, government adopted a stance that we have called victim/underdog triumphalism which takes origin from traditional folkloric philosophy which will further be explained in the theoretical framework. Land was simply taken as spoils of the Second Chimurenga – along the same fashion that white settlers had done subsequent to the 1893 Anglo-Ndebele war and the First Chimurenga of 1896-97.

While skilfully exemplifying from two contesting points of view in regard to land reform in general, Scoones, et al. (2010) quote two opposing stances, for and against the future role of farming as an engine for economic development. They outline van der Ploeg’s (2009) who is supportive of ‘locally-controlled production systems’ of smallholder agriculture, which, in the Zimbabwe scenario, equates perhaps to A1 and A2 resettlement farms. Proffering a contesting view, Scoones, et al. (2010:3) also quote from Collier (2008) whose views are that ‘…the advocacy for small-scale agriculture solutions are naïve and populist, pointing to the competitive advantages of large-scale, ‘modern’, commercial agriculture in the context of globalization.’ The current chapter’s view is that agriculture-driven economic development should be based on sound economic principles and considerations, contrary to what seems to be the policy position of the government of Zimbabwe.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Expropriation: The forcible takeover of African lands by the white settlers during more than half of the colonial period, which lasted 90 years.

Land Acquisition: An Act (1992) AU23: The in-text citation "Act (1992)" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. that government passed allowing it to take away white commercial farm land without being taken to court.

Jambanja: A Shona neologism that refers to the forced takeover of white commercial farms by indigenous blacks under the so-called fast-track land reform program (FTLRP).

Corruption: An unfair use of public office to fleece and benefit the self and those connected to it at the expense of other people, often more deserving than the favored ones.

Reserves: Designated areas in which blacks were forced to relocate after their lands had been taken by the Rhodesian white settlers.

Resettlements: Plots of land on which mostly peasant farmers were resettled by government soon after independence in 1980 and during the 17 years that Britain provided funding for buying farms for this purpose.

Land Reform: A program by government of availing land to war veterans, peasants, civil servants and other well-connected, high ranking officials.

Populist: A reactive policy promulgated by government in order to quash disgruntlement from influential or huge sections of the population in a manner that endears itself to opposing forces, even when the policy or policies may be disastrous.

Chimurenga: A Shona term that refers to the first African uprisings of 1896-97 against Rhodesian settler colonization.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: