In 2000 Robert Mugabe shocked the world when he made dramatic changes to land ownership laws in Zimbabwe which resulted in thousands of white Zimbabwean farmers being forced to give up their farms and many to leave the country.
But now the tide is shifting again. Mugabe’s people have hinted strongly, for the first time, that farmers can return–at least some of them. This will be some 15 years after the Zimbabwe government began seizing their land.
Zimbabwe’s transformation from exporter to importer of food is blamed by some analysts on the land reform program, which saw white commercial farmers lose farms to landless blacks who are said to lack the skills to farm or capital. Agriculture used to contribute some 40% of the country’s foreign currency earnings through exports.
And even though the Lancaster House agreement between the British government and the Zimbabweans had provisions for land redistribution and guaranteed compensation for white farmers, when the time came the British and other countries, including the United States, did not fulfill their part of the deal to fund the program.
One of Africa’s strongest economies shrank to half the size it had been at independence in 1980.
Today, fewer than 300 white farmers remain on portions of their original land holdings in Zimbabwe and many of the seized farms lie fallow prompting the slow changes in attitude and policy.
For Mugabe the land occupations had little to do with righting a wrong but much about exerting power and force. For Mugabe the land occupations had little to do with righting a wrong but much about exerting power and force.
He has been in power since 1980 and one of the longest ruling presidents in Africa. It was therefore no surprise that the rule of law was suspended. Mobs of self styled war veterans and youth militia had carte blanche. There was violence and terror. Several white farmers and their black workers were killed, beaten or chased away and their properties taken over.
The chaos had adverse effects on the economy, food production, and civil rights. One of Africa’s strongest economies shrank to half the size it had been in 1980. Soon record hyperinflation would render supermarket shelves bare and the national currency worthless. 10% of the population fled to neighbouring countries in penury, hunger and fear.
After many years of operating as a pariah state, Zimbabwe is desperate to restore its pride and reintegrate into the international community. However, foreign businesses are still reluctant to invest in the country because of policy uncertainty and politicized property rights.