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Zimbabwe: Current Issues - page 8 / 19





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government enacted the Land Acquisition Act, amending the constitution to landowners of the right to appeal government-set prices in the courts. (The Act still

fair compensation, even though the government did compulsorily take 45

right farms

of appeal was taken in 1994, and according

away.) The to reports, the

deprive required Mugabe choicest

were given ZANU-PF.

not to the poor but to cabinet ministers, generals, and others well-connected (The Economist, April 16, 1994; African Business, January 1998).


Lancaster House Commitments. The land issue continued to fester, with Mugabe insisting that Britain was obligated to finance the purchase of land from whites for redistribution in part because British subjects had initially taken the land by force and in part because of commitments he felt were made at the Lancaster House negotiations in 1979. Authoritative sources on Lancaster House maintain, however, that the promise made by Britain was not a specific pledge to buy land but a more general offer to help fund agricultural development, land resettlement, and redistribution programs that might be undertaken by the new Zimbabwe government. (Henry Wiseman and Alastair Taylor, From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe: the Politics of Transition, New York, International Peace Academy, 1981.)

Nonetheless, Jeffrey Davidow, a U.S. diplomat who closely studied the negotiations, reports that Lord Carrington, the British mediator, did indicate that Britain “would be prepared to shoulder some of the financial burden” of compensating white farmers. (A Peace in Southern Africa: the Lancaster House Conference on Rhodesia, 1979, Boulder, Westview Press, 1979.) Davidow also reports that the Carter Administration promised assistance to Zimbabwe at Lancaster House, although the promise was “convoluted and cautious” and not linked to the purchase of white-owned land. The Administration, Davidow maintains, did not want to be accused of buying out “white landlords” on the one hand, or of “opening the U.S. treasury to land-hungry peasants” on the other. These British and U.S. promises, which Davidow describes as “undoubtedly sincere, but still vague” helped bring the talks to a successful conclusion.

1997-1998 Land Seizure Crisis

Forewarning of the current crisis came in October 1997, when President Mugabe told a political rally that his government had decided to take land needed for redistribution to poor African farmers from white commercial farmers without compensation. In November, the government published a list of 1,503 properties, totaling over 5 million hectares, for takeover. The government said it would pay for buildings and improvements on land taken, but not for the land itself – a responsibility that in Mugabe’s view lay with Britain. “The demand and need for land by our people is now overwhelming,” he had said in October, adding that “if the British government wants us to compensate its children, it must give us the money, or it does the compensation itself.” (South African Press Agency Report, October 13, 1997.) President Mugabe raised the issue with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, reportedly seeking about $250 million for land acquisition, but the British replied that any acquisition program would have to be “open and transparent,” while resettlement plans would have to be “economic” and benefit the poor – criteria the Mugabe proposal did not meet, in the British view. (British embassy statement in Zimbabwe, reported by the South African Press Agency, November 6, 1997.) The British government affirmed in December 1997, that it recognized the need for land reform in Zimbabwe, but that President Mugabe’s approach “will damage the economy, undermine investor confidence, and do nothing to help the poor.” (Foreign Office statement, December 10, 1997.)


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