The first months of 1998 were highly confused with respect to the land issue, with the government at times seeming to step back from the threat of sweeping nationalizations and at times threatening to move ahead. In June and July, poor farmers seeking land moved onto some white-owned farms as squatters, foreshadowing the vast squatter movement of 2000. Land seizures by government did not actually occur, however, perhaps because President Mugabe had come under strong international pressure to exercise restraint. Donors and international financial institutions warned that the proposed takeover program would inflict severe economic damage by deterring investors and cutting exports. The International Monetary Fund delayed a balance of payments support disbursement expected in August primarily because of concerns over Mugabe’s land policy and its effect on investment.
Despite international concerns, a land reform pledging conference met in Harare in September 1998. Zimbabwe was seeking pledges sufficient to fund half of a $2.2 billion program aimed at acquiring 5 million hectares over 5 years for the resettlement of 150,000 farm families. (The Economist, September 5, 1998). In fact, no funds were actually pledged at the conference, but tensions between Zimbabwe and the donor community seemed to ease because an agreement was reached on a two-stage land reform process that would have donor support. In the 2-year Inception Phase, 1,000 poor, rural families were to be resettled on 25,000 to 40,000 hectares already owned by the government or to be acquired by the government from underutilized farms that had been offered for sale by their white owners. The Inception Phase would be followed by an Expansion Phase, whose scale and design would depend on lessons learned during the Inception Phase. A communique issued at the end of the conference promised that the program would be “implemented in a transparent, fair, and sustainable manner, with regard for the law,” and Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge promised that there would be “no confiscators and no land-grabbers.” (South African Press Agency, September 11, 1998.)
Although the plan seemed to have the support of Mudenge and other Zimbabwe officials, President Mugabe threatened major new land seizures in November 1998 and March 1999, jeopardizing donor support. Nonetheless, the Zimbabwe government presented a detailed plan for the Inception Phase in February 1999, and in May, the World Bank pledged $5 million to assist with the resettlement of poor farmers, and several bilateral donors, including the United States, made small pledges as well.
Aftermath. In subsequent months, it seemed that the land issue might recede as Zimbabwe moved forward with the donor-approved reform program. France and Japan joined other donors in offering aid to resettled farmers, and in August 1999, the IMF lifted its suspension of balance of payments support. The IMF again insisted, however, among other conditions, that land reform procedures be “fully transparent” and that fair compensation be paid to landowners. At the end of the year, Mugabe signaled the onset of new land crisis when he began to demand that changes in the constitution to be voted on in 2000 include provisions for seizing land from white farmers without compensation. In a December 21, 1999 interview, Mugabe said “Land was taken from our people during colonization without compensation, but now the British say we must pay compensation for the soil stolen from us. Where do we get the resources to pay for the land?” (Johannesburg Independent Online.)