May 19, 2024
Land Repossessions Were Disastrous for Zimbabwe. Will South Africa Repeat the Same Mistakes?
The welfare of ordinary Africans was never a priority for the legions of Mugabe’s defenders in the African Union, the United Nations, and Western academia. To Mugabe, “land reform” was about staying in office where he was not wanted. To his defenders it was about extinguishing the legacy of colonialism–consequences be damned.
The welfare of ordinary Africans was never a priority for the legions of Mugabe’s defenders in the African Union, the United Nations, and Western academia. To Mugabe, “land reform” was about staying in office where he was not wanted. To his defenders it was about extinguishing the legacy of colonialism–consequences be damned.

On March 6th, 2020, the government of Zimbabwe “gazetted new legislation under which former landowners may opt for repossession [of confiscated land] or monetary compensation [for confiscated land]. The new regulations will apply to indigenous farmers [i.e., Zimbabwean nationals] whose farms were appropriated, as well as to those whose land was [originally and supposedly] protected by bilateral treaties.” So reported press in South Africa (a country I shall return to below). For now, let me confess to mixed emotions. First, reports from Zimbabwe ought to be treated with skepticism. The rule of law in that country does not exist. So, whether the government gazettes a reasonable sounding legislation or not may prove to be irrelevant in the long run. Second, I am elated. I have been writing about the catastrophic moral and practical consequences of land expropriation in Zimbabwe for exactly two decades. The official reversal of “land-reform” in that country is a source of deep personal and professional satisfaction. Let me start there…

Beginning in 2000, the government of the late Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe abandoned its “right of first-refusal” land acquisition policy. Under that policy, Zimbabwean land holders who wanted to sell their land were first obliged to offer it to the government of Zimbabwe. If the government did not express an interest in buying that privately-held land, land holders were permitted to sell it on the open market. The ostensible goal of the “right of first refusal” policy was to gradually make land holding in Zimbabwe less “European” and more “African.” In practice, the land acquired by the government (and paid for by the British, as stipulated by the Lancaster House agreement in 1980) rarely went to ordinary Africans. More often than not, it was apportioned among Mugabe’s cronies. Refusing to be a party to corruption, the British ceased to pay for Zimbabwean land transfers early in Tony Blair’s premiership. Citing British cessation of payments, Mugabe started to expropriate private land holders without compensation.

That was, at best, a partial reason for Mugabe’s homespun land reform. Politics also played a role.

[Interesting Read]

Loading