Online edition of Shunpiking



For your reference: The land question inZimbabwe


Cecil Rhodes’ agents tricked the King Lobengula of the Ndebele into agreeing to a mining concession, the Rudd Concession, which gave the British South Africa Company exclusive domain over all metal and mineral resources in his kingdoms. Lobengula had never intended to confer land rights and he repudiated the treaty, appealing to the British government for justice, but Rhodes was given a royal charter to colonise much of present day Zimbabwe. The military occupation of African land in 1890 was followed by its appropriation by British settlers who were each awarded 3000 acres and 15 gold mining claims.


Between 1890 and World War I the British South Africa Company (BSAC) and the British government appropriated the land of the Shona and Ndebele people largely by military conquest and created the new colony of Southern Rhodesia by 1895. Those settlers who fought against the Ndebele were each given 6000 acres of land. Within a year, 10,000 square miles around Bulawayo had been marked out. By the end of 1895 the BSAC had introduced the hut tax, "native reservations", and passes for the purpose of dispossessing Africans of their land, livestock and minerals and forcing them to work for European settlers. The famous Chimurenga rebellion of the Shona and Ndebele in 1896 was not finally suppressed by the BSAC until 1903, but by this time the settlers had seized over 15 million acres of land. By 1914, the BSAC had taken 48 million acres, other companies nine million acres and individual settlers a further 13 million acres. By this time Africans, who were 97 per cent of the population, had been forced into 23 per cent of the land in the so-called "reserves".


The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 formalised the separation of land and divided the country in two. In the most fertile region only European settlers could own land, while 50,000 Africans were forced to move to reserves. Under the Act, 49 million acres were designated "European Areas", including all urban areas and land solely for the use of European farmers, 29 million acres (22.4 per cent) were designated "Native Reserves" and a further eight million acres were reserved for purchase by Africans. The settler government took control of six million acres to be distributed as it saw fit. At this time Southern Rhodesia had a population of 1.1 million Africans and only 50,000 European settlers, who by this time enjoyed internal self-government.


In 1965, Ian Smith unilaterally declared independence (UDI) from Britain and armed resistance by the Zimbabwean forces of the Patriotic Front, incorporating ZANU and ZAPU began in 1966. When international economic sanctions were imposed against the Smith regime, commercial agriculture for white settlers was heavily subsidised.

In 1979, the Lancaster House Agreement paved the way for independence in April 1980. Under the Agreement, Britain has an obligation to fund land redistribution.

Payments of £44 million were made, but these were stopped in 1988 on the basis that the British government did not agree with the way in which land was being redistributed. Britain and other countries also made pledges to fund land redistribution in 1998 but have never implemented these promises. Under the Lancaster House constitution the Zimbabwe government could only buy land from "willing settlers".

When this expired after 10 years the government passed a law empowering it to make compulsory purchases. Six years ago, Robert Mugabe announced a list of 1,500 farms for compulsory acquisition, saying Britain should foot the bill for compensating the settler farmers because of the history of the colonists who had stolen the land from the African people.

In his national address on the 20th anniversary of independence, Robert Mugabe said the issue of land was the last colonial question heavily qualifying the sovereignty of the people of Zimbabwe. He said he could understand the frustration of the war veterans and the pressures faced by white commercial farmers which was emanating from the unwillingness of the British government to honour its commitment to land reform and the resistance to the land clause in the rejected draft constitution.


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