Thousands of news articles, scholarly articles and panel discussions debate Zimbabwe’s land reform program. Almost without fail, stark lines are drawn between black and white: colonial authority and indigenous population, owner and occupier, right and wrong. The problem with such a stark conclusion is it ignores all shades of gray.
The Commercial Farmers Union and elite political power players in Zimbabwe both play the martyr. President Mugabe’s former ruling political party, ZANU-PF, contends Zimbabwe suffered because the white minority owned the most fertile farmland and excluded the indigenous population from ownership. The Commercial Farmers Union argues ownership by valid land title and the violent land dispossessions contravene Zimbabwe and international law. Journalists, international governments, political observors and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) blame Mugabe’s policy of violent land reclamation for ruining the Zimbabwe economy and contend it is based on racism. The Commercial Farmers Union presses for restoration of property first and compensation in the alternative. There are elements of truth in all the above but it tells only part of the story.
At the end of colonial rule, only 50% of indigenous Africans claimed land ownership. Colonial relocation of this population to Tribal Trust Areas ensured black Africans were farming land characterized by poor soil, poor rainfall, poor roads and overcrowding. The systematic marginalization of black Africans under colonial authority is indisuptable and necessary to redress. However, the policies promulgated under the ZANU-PF regime to correct this imbalance were poorly managed and occurred primarily for political reasons (other liberation leaders such as Joshua Nkomo and Ndabaningi Sithole were some of the first to face dispossession to ensure Mugabe’s political survival). Violent land expulsions of both black and white farmers without respect for rule of law became the norm. Further, some of the white farmers displaced validly purchased their land post-liberation from the Zimbabwe government for a fair price.