Home / Politics / Opinion / 15 Years After Robert Mugabe Took Land From Whites And Gave It To New Black #Zimbabwe Farmers, The Country Can No Longer Feed Itself.

15 Years After Robert Mugabe Took Land From Whites And Gave It To New Black #Zimbabwe Farmers, The Country Can No Longer Feed Itself.

15 Years After Robert Mugabe Took Land From Whites And Gave It To New Black #Zimbabwe Farmers, The Country Can No Longer Feed Itself.

Robert Mugabe wanted to use his land reform program to eliminate the traces of colonialism by giving farms to black Zimbabweans. 15 years later the country can no longer feed itself.

A sign points the way to 'Black Power Farm'

“Before the reform we had 26 agricultural products on the market, but now we have to import almost everything,” says Prosper Matondi, managing director of the think tank Ruzivo Trust in the Zimbabwean capital Harare. For more than 16 years Matondi has monitored the agricultural problems of the country that once had the reputation of being the bread basket of southern Africa. The farming sector accounted for around 40 percent of Zimbabwe’s gross national product and farmers also supplied neighboring countries with their produce. But today Zimbabwe imports large quantities of maize, a wide variety of fruit and other food products.

For observers like Matondi, responsibility for this reversal lies with one of the government’s most ambitious projects. In 2000 President Robert Mugabe turned the agricultural sector upside down with his highly controversial fast-track land reform program. In the last 15 years more than seven million hectares (17.3 million acres) of land were redistributed. The official justification for this was that it was compensation for colonialism.

Robert MugabeRobert Mugabe launched the fast-track land reform in 2000

Some 4,500 white farmers were dispossessed, sometimes forcibly, and a million black Zimbabweans were settled on their land. A number of new medium-sized farms were created but by and large the land was redistributed to small-scale farmers – and to people who had good connections to the Mugabe regime.

Many losers, few winners

Since the reform, the farming sector has never really got back on its feet – and that is having a negative effect on the economy as a whole. According to the International Monetary Fund, the annual growth rate is only around four percent and exports are not so much food products but rather tobacco, platinum and gold.

However, analyst Matondi is reluctant to write off the fast-track land reform as a complete failure. He gives credit to the government for creating an agricultural model for smallholder farmers and he says the figures show that many Zimbabweans have actually benefited. “There has been a significant number of beneficiaries who have gained access to land.”

Nevertheless, the overall picture is grim. 80 percent of Zimbabweans today live in poverty. As a result of the land reform, some 300,000 black farm workers lost their jobs. Like the dispossessed white farm owners, they received no compensation for their losses.

Matondi adds that too little attention was paid to women who, he says, are “the backbone of Zimbabwe’s agriculture.” Of the 70 percent of women who live in rural areas, more than half work in the farm sector. But with the implementation of the land reform, the government failed to seize the opportunity to abandon traditional hierarchies and give women more of a say in the running of the expropriated farms.

A white Zimbabwean farmer4,500 white Zimbabwean farmers lost their land under the reform

Inheritance rights unclear

“There is massive land under-utilization,” says political scientist Phillan Zamchiya who teaches in Harare and Oxford. Less than 40 percent is currently being used productively, he told DW. One reason for this is that no real work is being done on many of the new large farms now in the hands of members of the political elite. Small farmers lack the necessary know-how and do not have enough capital to purchase the equipment they need, seeds, fertilizer or fuel. They get no support from the government, Zamchiya says.

In addition, many questions remain unanswered. For example black farmers were given land but “there is no clear tenure system that guarantees that the land belongs to them,” Zamchiya told DW. That meant farmers were uncertain whether they would be able to use the land in the long term or whether their wives and children would inherit on their deaths. “Tenure is hitched on the political party that you support,” Zamchiya said. It is equally unclear how responsiblity is divided between the various ministries and authorities who should be able to clarify such issues.

A larger problem

Matondi rejects the argument that commercial large farms would be better, saying this is outdated. Since the 1990s there have been a number of studies, some by the World Bank, which have showed that smallholders work more efficiently than commercial large-scale farmers. However their potential is not being used to its full extent.

A black Zimbabwean farmer stands in a fieldMany black farmers lacked both equipment and know-how to make a success of their new lives

Before the fast-track land reform, there was a strong lobby for commercial farms. Unlike smallholders, they received financing “for their farm operations, for infrastructure, for irrigation development and so on,” Prosper Matrondi said. Now, the small farm sector is in need of similar support.

For political scientist Zamchiya, the fast-track land reform is just a symptom of a much larger problem in Zimbabwe. “Most of the government reform programs exhibit the same tenets of patronage meant to maintain a regime in power,” he said. “The way it is distributed is on partisan lines and those who are not supporting ZANU-PF [the party of President Mugabe] are left to die of hunger.”

In short, if Zimbabwe’s food supply and economic problems are to be solved, corruption and political nepotism must be tackled first.

Source :


Check Also

My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to Explain White Privilege. I Decided to Be Honest

My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to Explain White Privilege. I Decided to Be …

  • Winston1984

    It may be because the established farms were given to Mugabe’s political suporters rather than to black farmers.

    • Nick van der Leek

      Also think maybe one or two white farmers’ farms weren’t taken away, this is probably why the agriculture system in Zim is struggling. Take those one or two remaining farms that whites have and the problem will quickly be solved.

  • Elna Kupke

    Kry vir julle. Julle sit met die fossiel wat net vir homself sorg. Raak ontslae van die wat die intelligensie het om te boer en nou wil julle kla!

  • Duncan Gill
  • Pingback: 15 Years After Robert Mugabe Took Land From Whi...()

  • This is just racist propaganda. Drivel. The number of tobacco farmers registered at the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board went from 1,500 in 2000, to over 100,000 today.


    In other words, land (43% of the country) didn’t go from 6,000 white farmers to 6,000 ‘friends and cronies of Mugabe’. Also, many people now make a very good living, including from growing tobacco.


    Check out Zimbabweland for interviews with the New Farmers and former farmworkers.


    Also, every year the WFP comes out with an estimate of the number of people that are ‘at risk’ of hunger – every year that number is substantially higher, but the number of people dying of starvation is not. In other words, the large number is used to generate funding.


    • Karl Schneider

      you cant eat tobacco and it depletes the land it is grown on badly unless crop rotation practices,leaving land fallow for a season to recover,which is expensive and hard to do by the small farmers who depend on a yearly crop from all their land.

      • Nick van der Leek

        I agree. Blacks farm better than whites. It’s just because black people don’t want to eat maize or bread or vegetables that the farms aren’t producing. I’m sure the beer market is doing well. Isn’t Zimbabwer the world’s biggest beer market? See, I told you.

    • How are they getting on eating all that tobacco?

  • markmasonphd

    Where is the Commons? Land re-allocation shifts private property from one social group to another without addressing the systemic problem of capitalism. Land reform is not shifting around private property ownership. Land reform is converting land stolen through colonial violence, then constituted as local community commons to be managed through local collectives.

  • Matthew Murphy

    When whites took the land they made it produce….

  • miss_msry

    Tobacco kills in more ways than one.