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2. Development of land policy

Determination of land policy in Zimbabwe
Botswana's land tenure: Institutional reform and policy formulation
Institutional, administrative, and management aspects of land tenure in Zambia
Land law and land policy in Malawi

Determination of land policy in Zimbabwe

R.M. Mupawose
Secretary for Lands, Resettlement and Rural Development, Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rural Development, Harare, Zimbabwe

E.T. Chengu
Assistant Secretary for Lands, Resettlement and Rural Development, Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rural Development, Harare, Zimbabwe


This paper will consist of two sections. The first section will attempt to describe the background or context in which Zimbabwe's land policy has evolved since its independence in 1 980. The second section is a brief outline of the actual policy as it has evolved so far in Zimbabwe.

The formulation of a land policy in Zimbabwe has been more of a process than a political event. The ensuing policy has been a result of the interplay of several factors, such as inherited natural resources, opposing class interests, and economic imperatives. It will be shown that, in trying to meet its political and economic objectives, the Government has had to grapple with several existing constraints, some of which were inherited as part of the previous socio-economic system, while others, such as a shortage of suitable agricultural land, climate, and population, were more or less naturally present. The evolving policy can therefore be regarded as a pragmatic and conciliatory attempt to resolve contradictions and conflicts in a transitional situation of continuing social and economic struggle.

The term ''land policy" refers to a wide range of issues. It can mean land transfer or acquisition, land resettlement, or the system of land tenure. In Zimbabwe, land policy has so far embraced the first two aspects only; policy has so far been focused on land redistribution, that is, acquiring land from commercial landlords and transferring it to landless peasants. The Government is still working on the aspect of land tenure with the intention of formulating a uniform kind of tenure for the whole country, if possible, in line with the Government's politico-ideological principles. Therefore, for the purpose of understanding the analysis in this paper, "land policy" should be read to mean "acquisition and redistribution" rather than "tenure."

Land Policy Formulation

Land Resources: Natural Regions and Their Suitability to Farming

The land in Zimbabwe has been categorized into five agroecological regions, based on average rainfall, altitude above sea level, and other climatic conditions prevailing in each region. Based on this information, farming systems suitable for each region have been determined. A brief description of the farming system suitable for each region is given in the legend accompanying figure 1. The area of each natural region in relation to the area of the whole country is given in table 1 below.

Natural regions I and 11, which are the most favourable for specialized and intensive farming, comprise only 16.9 per cent of the entire country. If region III is included, slightly over one-third of the country can be said to be suited to gainful agriculture. This is an absolute and natural shortage which does not reflect the relative shortages arising from the racial and unequal ownership of land.

TABLE 1. Area of natural regions

Natural region Area in hectares As percentage of country
I 703,400 1.8
II 5,861,400 15.1
IIl 7,287,700 19.5
IV 14,782,300 36.7
V 10,441,100 26.8
Total 39,075,900 100.0

Later we shall see that the limited area of the most productive land has a bearing on land redistribution policy. It is, in fact, one of the most pertinent, inherited factors which has a bearing on the amount of "good" land that the Government can redistribute to peasants.

FIG. 1. Agro-ecological zones in Zimbabwe

Categories of Ownership and Use of the Natural Farming Regions

In Zimbabwe, land is classified into four major groups according to its ownership and use, as follows:

  1. commercial land (formerly European land), comprising all privately owned commercial farming land, the former African purchase lands, the main urban centres, and some small areas of State land which have yet to be designated for resettlement or which are being used for government purposes;
  2. communal areas (formerly Tribal Trust Lands), comprising 170 defined areas of State land which are occupied on a traditional pattern of land tenure;
  3. parks and wildlife areas; and
  4. forest land.

These categories are distributed in the various natural farming regions referred to in table 2.

It can be seen from table 2 that most of regions I, II and III which are the regions most favourable to specialized and intensive agriculture, lie in the commercial land area and are privately held. For instance, 74 per cent of all region Il is commercial land and 63 per cent of all region I is under commercial private ownership.

Since 15,679,500 hectares of commercial land are owned by a mere 5,700 white farmers while 16,279,400 hectares of communal land, most of which are in regions 11 to V, are owned by 800,000 African peasant farmers, the unequal distribution of land by race is obvious and so is the need for redistribution from one race to another and from the commercial sector to the peasant sector.

What is even more pertinent to our present analysis of the determination of land policy, however, is the various amounts of commercial land in the different farming regions. Three statistics are of particular importance in this respect. The first one is 4,764,700 hectares, which is the total of all commercial land in regions I and 11. The second is 8,005,300 hectares, which is all the commercial land in regions l, ll, and III, and the third statistic relates to the total amount of commercial land in all the five natural farming regions, which is 15,679,500 hectares. All land redistribution policy assumptions have to relate to these amounts of commercial land and use them as the base-line or starting points.

For instance, the figure of 8,005,300 hectares, which is the total of all the commercial land in regions I to III, governs the total amount of land that can be acquired from that part of the country which is considered most favourable for agriculture. It determines both the quality and quantity that can be acquired. In fact, it can be seen from this that, if 8,005,300 hectares are available for acquisition from regions I, II, and III (assuming, in fact, that the policy is to acquire all the commercial land in these regions), then the total amount of redistributable land considered good in the whole country is limited. It means there are 8,005,300 hectares of "good" land available for redistribution, that is, 58 per cent of the total area in regions I to III or 20 per cent of the total area of the country if the rest of the country, that is, regions IV and V, is considered poor or marginal. Thus, apart from the relative or racially created shortage of "good" land, it can be seen that superimposed upon this there is, in fact, an absolute shortage of "good" land. Later, it will be shown that problems arise when this figure is related to the number of landless people needing to be resettled.

The amount of acquirable commercial land is, therefore, a governing or limiting factor in the determination of land redistribution policy. Policy options revolve around the amounts of acquirable commercial land in the different regions. For instance, if the policy is to resettle people on "better" land, then it means fewer people would be resettled because there are only 8,005,300 hectares of land considered "better." If the policy is to resettle many people, it would have to be accepted that many of them would be resettled on those regions considered marginal, such as IV and V.

TABLE 2. Land ownership categories and their distribution (area in thousands of hectares)

Natural region

Large-scale commercial land

Communal areas Small-scale commercial land

Other land


Area % Area % Area % Area % Area %
I 440.2 63 128.3 18 7.3 1 127.6 18 703.4 100
II 4,324.5 74 1,255.1 21 252.1 4 29.1 1 5,861.4 100
III 3,240.6 44 2,814.7 39 536.1 7 696.3 10 7,287.7 100
IV 4,025.8 27 7,307.3 49 523.0 4 2,696.2 20 14,782.3 100
V 3,648.4 35 4,774.0 46 97.6 1 1,921.1 18 10,441.1 100
Total 15,679.5 40 16,279.4 42 1,416.1 4 5,700.9 14 39,075.9 100

Source: Ministry of Agriculture

TABLE 12.4. Labour demands by month on the riverain landa

o x x             o o o
x                     x

a. o = planting; x = harvesting.

Production by Sectors and Their Relative Importance

Of all the inherited problems, the disparity in production and economic importance between the commercial sector and the peasant or communal sector is the most serious and difficult to redress. It is also the one with the most serious implications for any land redistribution policy because of the uncertainty of its likely impact on food production and the rest of the economy, especially in the short run.

At present, the share of the agricultural sector as a whole in gross domestic product is well over 20 per cent, while its share in total formal wage employment is over 32 per cent. In addition, agriculture is an important source of industrial raw materials, and accounts for more than 45 per cent of total merchandise exports. However, because of the present imbalances in the structure of agricultural production, much of this production comes from the commercial sector. For instance, the communal areas consume 80 per cent of their production on the farm as against 14 per cent in the largescale commercial farming sector. Over 90 per cent of the value of all agricultural produce marketed through official or formal channels is from the large-scale, mainly European, commercial sector, 2 to 3 per cent is from the small-scale commercial sector (the former African Purchase Areas), while 5 to 7 per cent is from the communal areas.

A recent investigation by the Commission of Inquiry into Prices and Conditions of Service under the Chairmanship of Roger Riddeli recognized the agricultural importance of the commercial farming sector when it recommended that "new areas of land be acquired to absorb the population that is in excess of the safe carrying capacity of the present-day peasant sector while ensuring that commercial farming land is able to continue to provide the bulk of the nation's basic food requirements, a surplus for export and for the provision of inputs for industrial production." It added that "the fact that approximately 230,000 families are currently dependent on commercial agriculture for livelihood'' or that upward of 33,000 people were employed by the commercial agricultural sector could not be overlooked.

For these reasons, it can be seen that the commercial sector is very important to the country's present mixed economy. Moreover, the recent creation of the Southern African Development Coordinating Committee (SADCC) and its assigning of the responsibility for subregional food security to Zimbabwe added another dimension to the importance of commercial agriculture in the country as well as the subregion. This recognition of the present importance of commercial agriculture does not, of course, deter the Government from implementing a land redistribution policy, but it certainly makes the Government very cautious in its approach. It therefore registers as a moderating and conservative force. This happens even more so when it is realized that the Government is anxious to avoid plunging the country, albeit in the short run, into a situation where it has to import food.

On the other hand, the existence of abject poverty in the peasant sector, which results, amongst other things, from population pressure, acts as a spur on the Government's implementation of land redistribution.

It is clear, therefore, that the existing production pattern does have a bearing on the nature of the land policy that the Government adopts and on the tempo of its implementation.

To resolve the political contradictions in present production, any redistribution policy has to strike a balance between the vested interests of the landed commercial farmers and the landless peasants. It must also strike an economic balance between the two extreme policy options of either radically redistributing all commercial land, which might disrupt production, especially in the short run, or adopting a more cautious and pragmatic redistribution policy, which might not immediately satisfy all the existing land hunger. Very often this contradiction presents the most difficult choice for the Government when it resolves itself into its simplest form, that is, when it becomes simply a question of foreign exchange versus people's land hunger.

Moreover, the formulation of a land redistribution policy is further complicated by the fact that the causal connection between land and agricultural production is not clear. Numerous factors other than land are involved in agricultureal production. It cannot be said that the mere transfer of land to people needing it will automatically lead to successful agricultural production. To redress the imbalances of the previous production, therefore, reliance should not be placed on land redistribution alone but rather on a much more thorough analysis of the mechanisms and operations of State aid, and the role of inputs such as extension, management, and credit.

For instance, it is generally known that much of the present success and development of the commercial (formerly European) sector is largely due to the fact that, in the past, this sector had better access to credit, better management and extension and better infrastructures. It is also generally recognized that the poor performance of peasant agriculture is not due to ''poor" land alone but also to numerous other factors, such as lack of an efficient infrastructure, credit, inputs (e.g. seed and fertilizer), adequate extension and management, and transport and collection depots as well as to inappropriate cropping systems and overcrowding and overstocking. For successful agricultural production to be achieved, a redistribution policy must incorporate several other factors, making the analysis of factors determining land policy extremely complex.

Very often a government has to pursue different policies for different objectives. For instance, a land policy with the political objectives of bringing about egalitarianism or of eliminating the exploitation of one class by another, or whose aim is to transform one mode of production into another, is not necessarily the same policy that will be pursued when the objective is simply to increase production. Attempts to achieve both the political and the economic objective with one policy often fail.

Sometimes a vicious circle is created in trying to remove inherited imbalances in production. This is because the shortrun period where land hunger is most acute and where, therefore, a ruthless and radical land reform policy is needed, is also, unfortunately, the period when the foreign exchange from commercial agriculture is most needed to provide the infrastructure, transport, equipment, and machinery for the transformation of peasant agriculture.

Thus, to attempt to acquire both large amounts of land and foreign exchange at the same time from the commercial sector always appears as a contradiction and a land redistribution policy which tries to achieve this also becomes contradictory.

The Government cannot have it both ways until the peasant sector also becomes an important producer of food and surplus exportable products -which presupposes prior transformation of the peasant sector itself.

An Estimation of Landlessness

There is no accurate record of all the people needing land in independent Zimbabwe. Previous population censuses were not designed to reveal people's landlessness. However, various people such as academics and government officials have, on the basis of analysis and deductions, given certain estimates of landlessness.

It is generally known that the land situation in the communal areas (former Tribal Trust Lands) is very bad. There is tremendous population pressure and overcrowding, especially in those communal areas which form a crescent, running from the south-west of the country, passing through the southern Victoria and Buhera districts, and turning to the north-east and ending in the Mangwende and Mrewa districts (see figure 2).

At the time of independence, refugees and other displaced people needed to be rehabilitated or resettled. Most of these people have now been rehabilitated, mainly in their own homes.

The recent Riddell Commission of Inquiry into Incomes, Prices and Conditions of Service, assessing the land requirements, estimated that at independence there were about 780,000 farming families in the peasant communal sector. On the basis of conservation and extension criteria, communal areas could carry as well as provide with an adequate income only a total of 325,000 families. Assuming that 235,000 families were partly dependent upon incomes from migrant worker family members, the Commission concluded that there remained some 219,000 families which needed to be resettled. If we take this figure of 219,000 families as a fair reflection of the overall situation of landlessness, we should then relate it to the various amounts of acquirable commercial land in the various natural farming regions. This relationship of numbers of people needing to be resettled and the total amounts of potential commercial land is the limiting relationship which sets the parameters of any land redistribution policy.

We have seen above that the total amount of large-scale commercial land in regions I, II, and III considered the best for agriculture amounts to only 8,005,300 hectares, and commercial land in all regions amounts to 15,679,500 hectares. Therefore, various policy options exist. For instance, if the policy were to resettle as many people as possible on the land considered the best, then the figure of 219,000 families would have to be related to 8,005,300 hectares. Earlier on it was calculated by the conservation and extension experts that to make a minimum reasonable income of US$400 per annum while using modern methods of tillage in regions l, ll, and III, a settler family needed an average of 36 hectares of grazing and arable land in these regions. On this basis, if all the 219,000 families were resettled in regions l, ll, and Ill, they would take up a total of 7,884,000 hectares of commercial land from this region. This almost wipes out all the productive commercial land in the most favourable regions. This obviously has consequences on agricultural production, especially in the short term. As we have seen above, most of the agricultural value is at present derived from regions l, ll, and III of commercial agriculture. The policy objective of resettling all people on the best land, therefore, clashes in the short term with the objective of expanding production. A policy compromise has to be made whereby land for resettlement is acquired from the 15,679,500 hectares of commercial land from all regions, including regions IV and V, which are considered marginal or poor.

FIG. 2. Land pressure in Tribal Trust Land, Zimbabwe

Thus, we see that policy intentions are constantly constrained by inherited artificial or natural realities. Policy is determined by a set of given factors; it does not arise entirely and unfettered from the political aspirations of the politicians or the Government. It is always a dialectical and synthetic process taking place in a given context.

Land Policy to Date

In the previous section, we tried to provide the context in which policy has evolved. We attempted to point out some of the factors which have constrained and therefore helped to determine policy in Zimbabwe in the short period of its independence. In the following section we shall briefly outline what the actual policy has been and summarize what has been achieved so far.

The Present Policy and Its Objectives

The Government's land redistribution policy is doublepronged. The first prong seeks to reduce the imbalances in the past racial land allocation policies. Its objective is to transfer land from those with too much of it to those without it. The second prong seeks to maintain or increase agricultural production both in the commercial and communal areas. The aim, therefore, is redistribution with production, which is in line with the Government's overall economic policy of "growth with equity." So far, emphasis has been on redistribution, and no systematic and rigorous attempt has yet been made to actually transform the existing modes of production. The issue of socio-economic transformation will be addressed at a later stage, when a uniform system of land tenure has been worked out for the entire country. At the moment, the inherited reality of a mixed economy has to be accepted.

The Government's redistribution policy is tempered by the 1979 Lancaster House peace constitution, which, under its Declaration of Rights, includes a section protecting the property of land owners from forcible seizure by the State. The section establishes the principle of compensation by requiring that the Government pays prompt compensation for any land it might acquire from a private holder.

Apart from the requirements of the Lancaster House Constitution, the Government's policy is also tempered by the policy of reconciliation and the Government's overriding desire to consolidate the people's power under peaceful conditions during the first post-war years of independence. The policy which has emerged has therefore been cautious, pragmatic, and based on orderly and sound planning.

The Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rural Development is charged with the responsibility of administering the Government's land redistribution policy. As the name of the Ministry implies, there are three main functions to be performed:

Land Acquisition

The Ministry of Lands has been acquiring land from the commercial areas in all the natural regions of the country. Land has been purchased from its present holders on a willing-seller willing-buyer basis. There has been no forcible seizure of private land.

A Land Selection Committee, acting on the advice of Government land valuation and extension officers, has been deciding on what land the Ministry should purchase. The Government has been particularly anxious to acquire all underutilized, abandoned, and derelict land. Those commercial farmers who have been fully utilizing their land have been left to make their own contributions through production for food and exports.

By August 1981, the Government had purchased 438,000 hectares of land out of a total 2,300,000 hectares on offer for purchase, and by the end of December 1981, the area of land purchased had increased to 528,000 hectares and was still increasing steadily.

Intensive Resettlement

Once land has been acquired, it is surveyed, planned, and demarcated, and its carrying capacity is determined. When this is done, essential infrastructure is built. This includes such things as access roads, diptanks, boreholes, clinics, and schools. At the same time as the basic infrastructure is being laid out, settlers are selected on the basis of criteria which emphasize the need for land. The selection is made out of the refugee, displaced, and landless peasant population who show a willingness to settle down as farmers.

After selection, people are then resettled according to certain models. So far three models of resettlement have been chosen by the Government. The first model involves intensive village settlements with individual arable allocations and communal grazing areas. The second model is an intensive settlement with communal living and cooperative farming. The third model envisages the formation of an intensive settlement such as in the first model but combined with a centralized "core" estate.

In each case, the amount of grazing and arable land allocated per family is determined by the potential of the area in question and will vary greatly from one natural agro-ecological region to another. The department responsible for conservation and extension determines the agricultural potential of each region and advises on the most appropriate cropping and livestock system.

The third model, that of co-operative farming, is intended for those groups of people who are well motivated and have a heightened ideological consciousness. In the long run, this model will become the basis of implementing the Government's policy of socialist transformation of peasant agriculture. People are not compelled to join cooperatives against their will or before they understand the merits of co-operative agriculture.

In many cases, the Government gives initial assistance to genuine co-operative groups to help them establish themselves; otherwise the Government insists on the principle of self-reliance. The assistance offered is usually in the form of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, seed, credit, and draught oxen. The largest component of assistance, however, is via the provision of infrastructure, such as transport and service centres, roads, diptanks, and water supplies. Recently, the Ministry embarked on an emergency programme of accelerated intensive resettlement. Under this programme the Ministry tries to resettle as many people as possible in the shortest possible time by putting them on resettlement land before roads and other infrastructure are built. It is assumed that the settlers, in this case, would use the infrastructure available in adjacent communal areas. The Government plans to resettle 162,000 families in the next three years.

Land Tenure

The Government has not yet evolved a national system of land tenure. This is a complex exercise whose analysis would have to take into account the desired socio-economic transformations as well as the likely impact on production. In the meantime, however, the settlers on different models of resettlement schemes are occupying their holdings under a variety of permits, as follows:

Model A

Model B

Permits are also issued in respect of those farms run as co-operatives by organizations registered with tine Registrar of Cooperative Societies.

All the permits emphasize and encourage the practice of proper and sound land husbandry methods by the settlers.


We have presented above a brief outline of the Government's redistribution policy as it actually exists as well as the factors and constraints determining it in the past 23 months of independence. No doubt, in this year of national transformation, the Government will move more resolutely towards a socio-economic transformation policy, especially through the introduction of a more egalitarian system of land tenure.

The first stage was to give land to the landless peasant tillers. The second stage will be to transform existing modes of production. In the second stage, the Government intends to pursue a more rigorous socialist policy of co-operativization, collectivization, and State farming to counter the present power and monopoly of capitalist agriculture, which dominates the production of food and vital exports, thereby causing a dangerous economic imbalance.

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