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Global Crisis Solutions

Zimbabwe: Land, identity and power
Global Crisis Solutions Internal Position Paper, May 2004

David Mwaniki

Global Crisis Solutions

May 2004

Posted with permission of David Mwaniki, Global Crisis Solutions. Website:
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Zimbabwe is currently facing numerous socio-economic crises. The destabilization of its agricultural sector, has resulted in food insecurity, unemployment (currently at over 70%), inflation (as of April 2004 at over 584%), and deteriorating social services1. The past decade has seen the country move from its place as Africa’s bread basket to a nation where over half the population is dependent on food from external sources2. This environment has been caused by a combination of political and economic factors, at the center of which are a struggle for control of land and the political manipulation of this struggle.

Land has played a critical role in the last 200 years of Zimbabwe’s history. With the beginning of European settlement in 1890 came policies that marginalized Africans, forced them into wage labor, and displaced them onto infertile settlements. Decade of oppression gave rise to a liberation movement in the 1960s that called for repossession of land and independence from white minority rule. With independence in 1980 the country faced challenges to:
  • Resettle indigenous Africans;

  • Maintain Zimbabwe’s agricultural output (for both internal and external consumption);

  • Ensure a stable and growing economy; and

  • Create an inclusive social environment.
Post-independence land reform was key to many of these challenges and together with the British government, the Zimbabwean administration lay in place frameworks for land reallocation. These processes however, did not fulfill expectations. Their execution was riddled with poor management, opacity, inadequate funding, and corruption.

When political opposition against President Mugabe’s rule began to mount in the late 1990s, he placed land reform at the center of his agenda. However, his brand of reform diverged from previous processes. He called for radical ownership change through forced and uncompensated acquisition of land owned by white farmers. In so doing, he consolidated his power among rural peasants—many of whom were to be rewarded for their contribution to independence.

The international community reacted sharply to the forced takeovers. Mugabe used racially divisive rhetoric, accusing developed nations, especially Britain, of being imperialist and hypocritical. Domestically, this language and associated actions increased in frequency as the 2002 elections drew close. It fuelled takeovers and caused insecurity among white farmers. Many emigrated while those that remained reduced their agricultural output.

Since the 2002 elections, which Mugabe won through unfair methods, the political and economic environment has deteriorated. Zimbabwe faces intermittent food shortages, economic decline, isolation from the international community, threat of chronic authoritarianism, and the social division. Given current trends Global Crisis Solutions recommends the following actions for the government of Zimbabwe, civil society organizations, and the international community:

Land reform:
  • Create a transparent framework that reviews past allocations, redresses outstanding issues, and lays a path for future reallocations. This framework would be based on an international, national, and/or community-based dispute resolution mechanism accepted by Zimbabweans.

  • Assess the economic feasibility of reallocation (costs of smaller parcels, adjusted production levels) and identify sources of funding to cover costs.

  • Examine all aspects of land reallocation in a comprehensive and multi-dimensional fashion (for example, adequate compensation, funding, and training for new farmers).
Food security:
  • Create a sustainable food security strategy even as Zimbabwe resolves land reform.

  • Allow the unhindered access of humanitarian support to the vulnerable communities of Zimbabwe.

  • Facilitate the coordination of humanitarian aid efforts.

  • Recognize and support social protection responses as a food security option.
Institution Building:

  • The international community and the democratic community within Zimbabwe must continue highlighting the disintegration of rights and political progress.

  • African leadership, especially in the Southern African region should take on and aggressively engage Mugabe through mediatory or economic action and urge him to follow democratic principles. “Business as usual is no longer acceptable”
Social Conflict:

  • Promote open discourse on Zimbabwe’s history and its effect on the present. This may include community dialogues on race and land or joint projects between groups, which may result in reframing the image of the country.

  • Outlaw and eliminate rhetoric that promotes racial and ethnic division.


  1. United Nations Development Program. World Food Program, Report n.19. 7 May 2004.

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