The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe


The opening phase of ‘land invasions’



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2.3 The opening phase of ‘land invasions’

There is general consensus that the land invasions were organised soon after the February 2002 referendum result became known. It would appear that the immediate catalyst was this political setback to the government. Initially, the land invasions were unleashed by groups of war veterans, later accompanied by ZANU-PF youth and certain state agencies. (The war veterans had fought in the country’s liberation struggle in the 1960s and 1970s). The terms ‘land invasions’ or ‘land occupations’ originated during this period and began to be widely used, especially in the media. For a while, politicians used the term ‘land demonstrations’ but somehow it did not catch on. The role of war veterans in the invasions was pivotal. One state-controlled newspaper recalled, with some colourful embroidery, how it all started:


three days after the ‘no vote’ in the February 2000 referendum, seven veterans bumped into each other in Mucheke suburb in Masvingo. Like many land-hungry Zimbabweans, the war veterans had hoped that a new constitution would finally satisfy their unquenchable thirst for land … As they discussed the results, one thing became apparent, that the ‘no’ vote had dealt a severe blow to the economic empowerment of blacks through a constitutionally provided equitable land redistribution programme. It was also clear that about 4,000 white farmers who clung jealously to Zimbabwe’s prime farming land had bankrolled the no vote campaign with assistance from their kith and kin locally and abroad … For the first time, white commercial farmers supped, dined and drank with their labourers in open air parties held to celebrate the victory of the ‘no vote’ … In the quiet of the night of February 16, 2000, the seven war veterans moved to occupy Yothum farm in Masvingo East commercial farming area. The occupation effectively gave birth to the fast-track resettlement programme — the Third Chimurenga — which ushered a vibrant agrarian revolution for Zimbabwe … (the Herald, 8 August 2002)

From the state media perspective, this was indeed a defining moment in the opening phase of land invasions in February 2000. There was perhaps an element of spontaneity during the first few weeks of the jambanja. This would change as months went by and it became increasingly obvious that they were orchestrated by the ruling party. Some analysts have stated that the jambanja began to be orchestrated from as early as two weeks after the referendum. For instance, one account observed that:

in a carefully coordinated campaign starting on 26 February 2000, gangs armed with axes and pangas invaded white-owned farms across the country. Government and army trucks were used to transport them to the farms and to keep them supplied with rations once there. They were war veterans, but some of the participants were too young to have participated in the war 20 years earlier. Their immediate task was to peg out plots of land. But the wider purpose of their deployment was crush support for the opposition in rural areas in the run-up to the 2000 election. (Meredith, 2002)

While this account seems to understate any initial spontaneity in the invasions, the official orchestration seems to have followed the initial invasions. The political objective of the invasions loomed large as the election campaign for the June parliamentary elections began in earnest in March 2000. By and large, the invasions served a double purpose (Chan, 2003). The first was to seize the land and thus ‘punish’ the white farmers for their political stance, and the second was to close off the commercial farming areas to campaigning by opposition parties. The overall objective of the invasions during this phase was to prevent a repetition of the referendum defeat. Hence the emphasis on wartime methods of political mobilisation such as all-night meetings known as pungwes, and considerable use of coercion and violence against both farm workers and farmers. The first killings of farm workers and farmers believed to be MDC members occurred during this first phase. Among the farmers killed were Martin Olds in the Nyamandlovu area near Bulawayo and David Stevens in the Macheke area. A number of farm workers died in politically-motivated violence in the provinces of Mashonaland East, Central and West during this period. By election time in June 2000, about 30 people (mostly opposition supporters) had been killed.

By the first week of March 2000, about 400 farms had been occupied under jambanja. Some of the ’invaders’ disrupted production, while others were more aggressive, threatening violence, slaughtering cattle, demanding transport, and breaking into farmhouses (Meredith, 2002). By June 2000, nearly 1,500 farms had been ‘invaded’ with the three Mashonaland provinces witnessing a relatively higher level of coercion and violence in the process. It was no coincidence that these were the most intensely farmed provinces, and that there was some initial resistance by farmers and farm workers. In general, the war veterans under their mercurial leader Chenjerai Hunzvi (who himself had not directly participated in the liberation war) maintained a high profile throughout this phase. But the land invasions were clearly not limited to the veterans and party youth. Local communities such as those in Svosve, which had attempted land occupation in 1998, took advantage of the new opening and momentum, and also participated. To that extent, jambanja was carried out in a mixture of spontaneous grassroots initiatives and top-down orchestrated coercion and violence. But the overall image that the land invasions gave was one of a degeneration into lawlessness, intimidation and violence. Hence the numerous calls from the judiciary, commercial farmers, human rights groups and the international community to restore the ’rule of law’. Not surprisingly, land reform itself was a central issue in the 2000 election. The promise of land was meant to be a vote-catcher with the rural electorate, but their response varied. For instance, subsequent voting patterns indicate that peasant and farm worker voters were sceptical towards the promise in such provinces as Matabeleland North and South, Manicaland and Midlands.

During this opening phase of jambanja, the disruption of farm production was less extensive than in later phases. But 804 farms were singled out for acquisition by government. The displacement of farm workers at this stage was also limited, with fewer than 30,000 affected (Kibble and Vanlerberghe, 2000). However, tension grew between the CFU and the government over the designation of the farms. A rift also opened between the government and the judiciary over the land invasions and the manner in which the property rights of commercial farmers were handled. Matters came to a head over these issues during the next phase, from July 2000 to the Abuja Agreement.




2.4 The launch of the fast-track programme

Following its return to power with a narrow majority in directly-elected seats in June 2000, the government launched the fast-track programme as a strategy to consolidate the gains made through the land invasions. Another agenda was to implement and complete the programme with an eye on the 2002 presidential election. This was made explicit by President Mugabe:


the revolution is yet to be concluded. The next elected parliament should ensure that it concludes the last phase of our revolution . None of us revolutionaries who won the war of independence will want their careers to end without the repossession of our land. The revolution had been fought on the basis that the land will come with political power … (Mugabe as quoted in Meredith, 2002)



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