The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe


The period between July 2000 and the end of 2001 would witness a concerted implementation of what was termed ‘an agrarian revolution’ or ‘the Third Chimurenga’



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The period between July 2000 and the end of 2001 would witness a concerted implementation of what was termed ‘an agrarian revolution’ or ‘the Third Chimurenga’.

One vehicle of implementation for this phase was termed ‘Operation Tsuro’. It began in 2000 and had three main facets. First was ‘command and control’, which was undertaken by a coordinated group from the police, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), the war veterans through the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), and for a brief period, the Ministry of Information (Chitiyo, 2002; Rutherford, 2001; Moyo,2001). This group met for regular briefings to discuss the direction of jambanja. Second, ‘operational zones’ were established to identify loyal and ‘opposition’ zones and communities, with the ultimate aim of converting rural areas into politically ‘liberated’ pro-ZANU-PF zones. The loyal zones were rewarded, and the opposition zones punished. Third, the ‘ground troops’ were the land-hungry peasants (armed with farming implements such as picks and axes) led by war veterans with the state acting as armourer (ibid).

Operation Tsuro deployed both stick and carrot; land reform was the carrot for peasants and other assorted beneficiaries. Whenever the police said that land invasions were a political issue, there was some suspicion that they were actually unable to enforce law and order. It was indeed a highly politicised issue, but it also opened up conflict between the executive and the judiciary. Throughout 2000 and 2001, that tension festered against the background of more land invasions.

During this phase the land issue was fought out through litigation by farmers in the courts as well as ‘low-intensity’ local struggles on the commercial farms themselves. Portions of farms were occupied and production often disrupted, while in some instances there was an uneasy co-existence between the new settlers and the commercial farm owner. However, not all provinces and districts experienced jambanja in similar ways. The occupation of farms was relatively peaceful in Midlands, Manicaland and Matabeleland South. In Midlands, relatively fewer farms were ’invaded’, and there was even talk of a ’Midlands Model’ of negotiated settlement, characterised by the direct involvement of high-ranking officials from central and provincial government. The model was said to be a comparatively successful conflict resolution process at provincial level.

However, many farmers brought cases before the courts to challenge government designation of their farms. Both the High and Supreme Courts in 2000 and early 2001 handed down a number of judgements which the government perceived as favourable to the farmers. The CFU had challenged the legality of the entire resettlement programme, arguing that the laws under which the government was acting were unconstitutional. It also contended that the programme was being carried out unlawfully, and that because of the failure of the police to comply with the courts’ orders to remove ‘invaders’, it was beset by lawlessness (Meredith, 2002). For its part, the Supreme Court declared that the fast-track programme was illegal, and that commercial farmers had not been given enough time to appeal against confiscation orders. The court then ordered the police to remove all war veterans, squatters and any others unlawfully occupying farms (ibid). In retrospect, the judgements of the courts now appear to have been largely academic. None of the other key state institutions was keen to enforce their orders. Nor did they agree with courts’ assessment of the land question.

This was the broad context in which the rift between the executive and the judiciary widened. The President and the Attorney-General made strong verbal attacks on the judiciary. The Chief Justice, Justice Gubbay, was forced to take early retirement in the first half of 2001. A number of other judges retired or left the country as judicial independence came under sustained attack. But there were differences among the judiciary itself over the land issue. One of the leading judges argued:


it is no longer possible to give judgements on certain issues that are acceptable to both sides of the divide. In some instances, judgements of the judiciary (on land issues) that are highly praised by one side are gravely criticized by the other side of the divide … (Judge Chidyausiku as quoted in the Herald, 9 January 2001)

Thus opinion was clearly polarised over how to address land invasions, and this reflected the division of opinion in the wider society. President Mugabe exploited this polarisation to make new appointments to the judiciary in a bid to ensure judgements more sympathetic to the government position.

There were other significant shifts on the land question during this phase. One of them was a conciliatory move by the CFU that was not reciprocated. Following its offer of 200 farms to the government in June 2000, the CFU increased the number in March 2001 to 561 farms covering 1 million hectares. The latter offer was known as the Zimbabwe Joint Resettlement Initiative (ZJRI). The key features of ZJRI included the 1 million hectares of uncontested land, settlement of mainly small-scale commercial farmers, one hectare of free tillage for each of the families, a Z$60 million grant for agricultural inputs and the establishment of a Z$1.375 billion revolving fund. However, the political temperature in 2001 had risen to such a degree that the government no longer appeared to have any interest in compromise deals with commercial farmers. Instead, new laws sought to speed up land acquisition. The main new pieces of legislation introduced the Section 5 notice passed in June 2001, and later the Section 8 notice. (Section 5 contained a preliminary government notice of intended compulsory acquisition of a particular farm, while under Section 8 the title to land passes to the acquiring authority). This resulted in the acquisition of 6,481 farms covering 9.2 million hectares by November 2001. In addition, Statutory Instrument No. 338 passed in November 2001 forbade the ownership of rural land exceeding the following maximum sizes under models A1 and A2:


250 hectares in natural region 1

400 hectares in natural region 2

500 hectares in natural region 3

1,500 hectares in natural region 4



2,500 hectares in natural region 5.

The regulation further required owners whose farms exceeded these maximum sizes to subdivide them by February 2002, failing which the minister would do so at the owner’s cost. The sale of farmland above the relevant maximum size was prohibited (cited in UNDP, 2002).

Two developments towards the end of 2001 marked the culmination of the fast-track programme. The first was the Abuja Agreement brokered by the Commonwealth in September 2001, and the other was a Supreme Court judgement in November 2001. The Abuja Agreement sought a peaceful end to the land invasions, and promised British assistance for land reform. For its part, the Zimbabwe government promised a return to the ‘rule of law’. Unfortunately, the agreement was ignored right from the beginning. Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect it to stick given the heated presidential campaign that started in the last quarter of 2001 and climaxed in the March 2002 election. The restructured Supreme Court ruled in December 2002 that government acquisition of land was lawful and that the rule of law prevailed in commercial farming areas (Herald, 4 December 2001). The judgement gave the legitimacy of the law to jambanja, a legitimacy that had eluded the executive since the process started in early 2000.

What was the impact of these legal and political developments on farm workers during this second phase of the fast-track programme? First, the continued presence of the ‘settlers’, now protected by the Rural Land Occupiers (Protection from Eviction Act), often created tensions on farms and disrupted production. There were conflicts between the new settlers and farm workers. The latter saw their jobs threatened by uncertainty and frequent disruption of work. It was not clear how many jobs were lost as a direct result of the land invasions. Certainly the figure had climbed from about 30,000 in 2000 to an estimated 70,000 in 2001.

Second, there was a relationship between the increased number of ‘occupied’ farms and the growing number of farm workers either laid off or displaced. The number of casual and seasonal workers who lost jobs was considerable because most listed farms scaled down their production. During this phase there was a flow of farm workers into informal settlements such as Maratos in the Concession area of Mashonaland Central, and Chihwiti and Gambuli in Mashonaland West, among others. Between the onset of the invasions in early 2000 and November 2001, the number of households in Maratos increased from 196 to 482, with farm workers constituting about 40 per cent of the entrants into the settlement (FCTZ, 2002a). At Chihwiti, about 66 per cent of the settlers were former farm workers (FCTZ, 2001). It would appear that the ‘occupations’ triggered a movement of some farm workers who had lost jobs and livelihoods, and those who had been coerced by the ‘invaders’ into moving off the farms.

Third, the situation remained fluid during much of 2001 as long as commercial farmers retained a physical presence on the farms. At best, the co-existence between the farmers and the settlers was uneasy. At worst, it broke out into open conflict, including violence. A number of farm workers and commercial farmers were killed, but also a few of the new settlers. Two of the more volatile areas for property destruction, intimidation and violence were the Makonde district in Mashonaland West and Hwedza in Mashonaland East.



Table 2.2: Summary of area and families resettled under A1 model, 2001





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