History of the Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe

 The former colonisers robbed our parents, looted our cattle, displaced our parents, exploited our mineral resources and over used our fertile lands from 1890 to 2000. They unjustly enriched themselves with over ninety years of colonialism, political  subjugation and crimes against humanity. Zimbabwe was supposed to get restitution from white Rhodesians upon attainment of independence. The struggle for independence was based on land, a compromise was reached in terms of which white farmers would continue occupying the land and allow a system of willing buyer and willing seller, 2 % of the white population owned 70% of the arable land.

Between 1890 and 1896, the British South African Company (BSAC) granted almost 16 million acres of the indigenous land to the European settlers who had volunteered to take up arms and defend the colony during the 2nd Chimurenga war, when our fathers and mothers rose up against settler colonialism. This is the land of our ancestors which gave the whites superior political and economic status brought about by proceeds of plunder and theft of our land. After the Second World War (WW2), the King of England flew the British war veterans to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to give them farms as a thank you for fighting for Britain on the land that was occupied by blacks. This armed struggle culminated in the Lancaster House talks.

Lancaster House Agreement/Constitution

The British government reneged on Lancaster House Agreement so the farmers don’t deserve a dime from Zimbabwe. Under the Lancaster House agreement, the British government pledged technical and financial assistance for land redistribution, an obligation that was later reneged on. At the Lancaster conference there was a deadlock on Land and Americans promised verbally to provide funds for the new Zimbabwean government to acquire land on a willing buyer – willing seller basis. The US government never provided those funds. The Lancaster House Constitution was a defective document designed by the British to ensure that white settler priviledges was prolonged .The United Kingdom broke the financial commitments it made in 1979, it was a betrayal of the promises it made to ensure a settlement. Margaret Thatcher’s government was largely interested in protecting the property rights of the white minority.

Land Revolution in Zimbabwe

Agitation for the land restitution started as early as 1990s with the Svosve farm invasions by the land hungry war veterans and peasants who were frustrated at the slow or no pace with regards to land. In 2000, pervasive and widespread farm occupations by the landless indigenous people took place. Over 5000 farms occupied by 4500 white farmers were taken over. Today the Zimbabwean masses are proud owners of their land as hundreds of thousand families have been resettled on millions of hectares of arable land. Colonialists seized some of the best agricultural land and much of it remained in the hands of white farmers after independence in 1980, while many blacks remained landless.

During the land revolution, the impact on the agricultural sector was felt immediately. The economy relied mostly on tobacco and horticulture for foreign currency. The agro processors that dominate the industry suffered.

Beyond the direct impact of the land revolution, property rights became a major casualty and was used as a tool by critics of the land reform in Zimbabwe .By taking away white privately owned land and turning it into state property, Zimbabwe was widely accused of going against a key tenet of Capitalism, the right to private property. Among the land taken over during the land revolution were farms under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPAs), which are deals between countries protecting each other’s investments from takeover.

Illegal Economic Sanctions

In response to the land revolution, the Western governments imposed illegal economic sanctions on Zimbabwe outside the United Nations framework. The sanctions have collapsed the healthcare system, education is now beyond the reach of many, and the economy is comatose and moribund. The few remaining working class are desperately in need of a living wage. In 2001, the US imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe demanding “respect for ownership and title to property” through the Zimbabwe Democracy and Recovery Act (ZIDERA). When Washington renewed its sanctions on Zimbabwe last year (2018), it made white compensation one of the key reforms as a precondition to end sanctions.

ZIDERA states that the Zimbabwean administration must enforce the Southern African Development Committee (SADC) tribunal rulings from 2007 to 2010 including 18 disputes involving employment, commercial and human rights cases surrounding disposed Zimbabwe commercial farmers and agricultural companies. The tribunal ruled that land reform in Zimbabwe was racially discriminatory, all farmers must be given back their land and that they must be compensated for the land. Without this reform, the sanctions will remain in place. 

The government is being dictated to by Washington, London and EU using EO13469 and ZIDERA sanctions. USA, UK and EU must unconditionally remove sanctions without a condition that forces Zimbabwe to first compensate their kith and kin on development made on our land. Our forefathers lost cattle, land and suffered dehumanization and dispossession at the hands of these colonial vipers. Our economy has no foreign currency, no fuel, and no cash in banks and in the market, no jobs or empowerment projects, yet we want to pay white people whose hostility to our economy and country is the reason for this quagmire. Compensating white farmers is part of the Zimbabwe reform agenda.

Compensation and Neo Liberal Capitulation

In an attempt by the Zimbabwe administration to re-engage with international capital, the issue of white farmer compensation is persistently coming up. The Zimbabwe administration wants to prove that progress is being made towards compensation ahead of the just ended 2019 Spring meeting at IMF in Washington.

Raising funds to compensate invaders is the reason why there is impoverishing austerity measures by the Finance ministry. White farmer compensation is a reality and our country will be stuck with a debt between &US$9 to US$30 Billion. The Zimbabwean government is giving compensation to white farmers who never paid reparations. These millions of dollars could be used on black famers to help them to be more productive on the farmers which they benefited during the land revolution. This money can be used to resuscitate the ailing industry. The imperialists are putting pressure on the Zimbabwean government to compensate white farmers. The Zimbabwean government should call for a referendum for people to decide on this emotive issue of Land or to get parliamentary approval. The Land is an issue of national interest which must be decided by the people. About 3.5 million citizens are living outside the borders of Zimbabwe as migrants, prostitutes, refugees and being subjected to afrophobia attacks and precarious labour.

The Zimbabwean government says compensation will not be for land but for improvements on the farms which include dams, dip tanks, farm houses and other infrastructure constructed on the farms over the years. Whatever developments they now claim are as a result of exploitation of our parents through forced labour. They forced our parents to pay hut tax, dog tax and cattle tax.

We are the victims and must be the ones to be compensated, instead of directing the scarce resources towards looters, robbers and enslaver’s. We should rather direct that money to address socio economic problems affecting our citizens before considering compensating white farmers.

Zimbabwe government is still paying a US$480 million loan for the Kariba dam at 5 % a year interest since 1968. It took out another bond for US$114 million to pay the remainder two years ago. Now how long is it going to take Zimbabwe to pay $3 billion, $9 billion to $30 billion at 10% to compensate white farmers?

In the current Zimbabwe constitution it mandates them to pay for compensation on improvements but paradoxically the same constitution mandates the government to give its people shelter, housing, free quality education, social services, economic progress, equality and dignity in Section 27 of the constitution. These socio-economic rights must be fulfilled first as people are suffering.

Zimbabwe has reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a programme of economic policies and structural reforms as a condition to re-engage with international financial institutions. Currently Zimbabwe has arrears of about US$2.2 billion with World Bank, the African Development Bank and European Investment Bank. In 2018, the government claimed to have paid out some $200 million to 240 white farmers as compensation.

There are some extreme voices among former white farmers who have drawn attention to the clause in ZIDERA Act that stipulates “respect for ownership and title to property” as a condition for the lifting of sanctions. That means a reversal to the land reform, with white farmers backed by western banks being able to buy back the land. Some have been talking to the US Congress. The government needs to be very careful, they could be wasting billions on compensation and still demands of the most bitter elements among former white farmers will not be satisfied and they will still lobby for sanctions to remain. This is what happened in Haiti.

Haiti – Zimbabwe, Similarity and Lessons

In 1804, Haiti became the first independent republic in Latin America, the second in the western hemisphere after the United States. Haiti was also the first modern state founded by blacks, the first to abolish slavery and remains the only state founded and sustained by slaves who won their freedom by force of arms. Haiti found itself alone, isolated, no foreign nation granted Haiti recognition. The history of Haiti bears similarities with what Zimbabwe is facing today.

Haiti succumbed to pressure for it to get Haiti French diplomatic recognition. It had to compensate the French and the colonial farmers in cash for the lost property, land and freed slaves. Haitian President, Boyer signed the agreement under more than pressure of diplomatic isolation. Haiti was compelled to borrow from a French bank. The impact of debt burden immediately impacted ordinary Haitians. President Boyer imposed a series of tax policies to generate revenue to pay the indemnity. This compensation did not improve the economy of Haiti, in anyway, the debt drained the Haitian treasury of its capital. It took Haiti 122 years to repay its independence debt. It did so 140 years after the abolition of the slave trade and 85 years after the Emancipation proclamation. In the same year, the Nazis paid for their crimes, including slavery at Nuremberg. Haiti is still labored to repay in cash the freedom its founding fathers had won with their lives. This is a lesson which the Zimbabwe government must take a leaf from.

The poverty of modern Haiti is inextricably linked to the independence debt. Today Haiti is by far the poorest nation in the Americas, 80% of Haitians live below the poverty line. Life expectancy is 51 years. The United Nations ranks Haiti number 153 out of 177 on its human development index, which measures poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy, child birth and other health factors. The white farmers demand for compensation is comically outrageous.

Zimbabwe Colonial Debt

Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister said Zimbabwe’s total debt stands at US$16.9 billion with domestic debt at US$9.5 billion and foreign debt at US$7.4 billion. Zimbabwe is working to clear a US$2.5 billion debt with African Development Bank and restructure a US$2.8 billion debt owed to Paris Club members. Zimbabwe is still suffering from having to pay off loans accrued by a pre-independence white supremacist government.

Some eight years ago, Jubilee Debt Campaign investigated the history of Zimbabwe’s debt. That debt is unpayable by a county that is in intensive care. Zimbabwe debt has its genesis from loans which were used to prop the military of the white minority racist government of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in violation of the United Nations declared sanctions. This debt (worth US$700 million at that time) was inherited by the newly independent administration. It inherited high levels of poverty and inequality as a consequence of policies that exploited the black majority. The new administration had imminent security threat from apartheid South Africa and accrued loans to prevent destabilisation from hostile South Africa. At that time the British were supporting apartheid South Africa.

These debts are being continuously recycled by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as they respond to droughts and natural disasters in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has since appealed to the IMF for an intervention in the wake of the destruction and displacement of people by the Cyclone Idai. The IMF has already shown keen interest to extend the loan on condition that the government implement structural adjustment reforms. In modern economic language this entail austerity, cutting down on government spending, trade liberalization, freezing of wages and removals of subsidies and business control by government. The long term consequences of these reformist policies are devastating even to a well-meaning government. These policies have destroyed many least developing countries.

Zimbabwe continues to be weighed down by this colonial debt 39 years after independence and also by policies which were promoted by the West. Zimbabwe must instead demand the immediate cancellation of that debt and genuine aid and investments not attached to free market reforms. Western governments and international financial institutions must apologise for their previous crimes.

Implications on African Liberation

The move to compensate white farmers will collapse land expropriation agenda in Southern Africa and Africa as a whole. The rest of Africa was looking to Zimbabwe as a beacon and leadership for Africa’s total liberation and self-determination. What happens in Zimbabwe with regards to compensation shall have precedence for South Africa, Namibia or any other African country that seeks to take land from colonisers. Compensating white farmers will be reversing the gains made so far in the continental Land Movement. It is against what our freedom fighters died for and totally against the spirit of the African liberation struggle. The Zimbabwean people are dying from poverty and economic strangulation at the behest of these former white farmers.


In conclusion, even future governments in Zimbabwe will continue to be plagued by that debt, because international law dictates that successive governments cannot abandon legally binding agreements concluded by its predecessors. That’s why Francophone countries are still making huge payments to France in honour of agreements made by governments long gone. That debt will remain and take more than 100 years to pay back while Zimbabwe remains stagnant because of the same debt. There is no socialism without Land. The working class and the peasants must be reminded that the basis of the revolution is Land. Jews were compensated for 6 years of German occupation and holocaust. In Asia there was compensation for Japan and there was a US Marshal Plan for many European countries. African countries and blacks located all over the planet must demand reparations and restitution from the indignities and losses they suffered for years during colonialism, slavery and even sanctions.

By Kwanisai Mafa 

The writer is a Zimbabwean citizen and a committed Pan Africanist. He can be contacted .