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There are two main explanations given for the fast track land reform program in Zimbabwe. While all parties recognize the legacy of land inequality and the need to address this legacy with land redistribution, they differ on the causes of the current political crisis. Government and the ruling party, Zanu-PF, blame the international donor community and Britain, the ex-colonial power, for the breakdown in the negotiated process of land reform. This argument has force: enduring economic inequalities, especially in land distribution, have made land ownership a fertile political issue for any political party, and the preference of donors for a redistribution process founded on market values has placed obstacles in the way of rapid progress. The opposition, however, led by the MDC, attributes the fast track program to the emergence of a viable electoral opposition, and government efforts to derail the first serious challenge to Zanu-PF rule since independence. Government and Zanu-PF therefore say that the current land reform program is an economic initiative, to redress colonial imbalances. Opposition supporters say that land reform is a political initiative, having more to do with Zanu-PF's desperate attempt to stay in power than with concerns for land equality. The polarization of this debate in practice has not been helpful to attempts to resolve the land crisis.

Human Rights Watch's concern is that the human rights violations that have accompanied the fast track process must cease. The conclusion of this report is that many ordinary Zimbabweans who might anticipate benefiting from a fair and effective land reform program fear the violence and intimidation of the "fast track" reform. They resent the discrimination in the way that land is allocated, seeing that the process of redistribution has too often favored Zanu-PF members and those who already have influence and status, instead of those in most need. As one resident of a communal area commented to Human Rights Watch: "The way I see it, it is political: before we had a stronger opposition we didn't have this question of land. If it was really important to the government, they would have done something about it in twenty years."196 Furthermore, a haphazard land resettlement process without adequate support for resettled populations raises serious concerns that it may create high levels of vulnerability among resettled people and at best simply relocate poverty.

Violence against farm workers, farm owners, those living in communal areas adjacent to occupied farms, and opposition supporters, is ongoing. War veterans and supporting ruling party militia have dominated the resettlement process, as has been widely reported. These rural militias can count on non-interference or limited intervention by the police when they commit acts of political violence. The danger is that, once the current crisis is resolved, these militia will continue to terrorize rural areas: the high rate of violent crime in neighboring South Africa offers a stark warning of the possible consequences for the future of violent political mobilization today.

The crisis in Zimbabwe has been presented as a racial one by the government, which states that it is finally redressing the injustices of colonial expropriation. The international media and some political commentary has tended to play into the hands of this presentation by highlighting attacks on white commercial farmers and demanding full market value compensation for expropriated land-as well as by largely ignoring other more serious crises on the African continent. However, as many black Zimbabweans stated to Human Rights Watch, disregard for the rule of law is ultimately more serious for poor, rural, black Zimbabweans than it is for white commercial farmers, who are more likely to have the resources to escape violence and recover their economic position, whether in Zimbabwe or elsewhere. A land reform process that is stated to be directed at past injustice is in practice creating new injustices that may well be more difficult to solve in the future.

In August 2001, a large number of Zimbabwean civil society groups came together to discuss the crisis in their country. In relation to land, the conference adopted resolutions that: "There must be an immediate cessation to the "fast track" land programme," and that "The present occupations must be rationalized in terms of the law but those guilty of violence on farms must not be eligible for incorporation into a new lawful programme."197 Human Rights Watch also concludes that the fast track program must be halted to the extent it generates human rights violations, and that violence must be ended and the rule of law restored. Then the competing claims of commercial farmers, farm workers, new settlers, and the state to land must be arbitrated by an impartial tribunal with authority to adjudicate disputes over land and allocate title fairly. The international donor community should give generous assistance to efforts to ensure a sustainable settlement to the land question in Zimbabwe.

196 Human Rights Watch interview, communal area, Manicaland, July 17, 2001.

197 The full text on the land issue reads as follows:
"The Conference fully accepts the present inequitable pattern of land distribution cannot continue and that there is an urgent need for major land reform in Zimbabwe. The land reform programme must, however, be properly planned and executed so that it benefits those in need of land and ensures that resettled farmers are given proper support systems to enable them to farm the land productively. It must also be carried out within a legal framework and without the use of violence.
The Conference notes that the chaotic "fast track" land grab has been carried out with violence and in contempt of the rule of law.
There must be an immediate cessation to the "fast track" land programme.
The present occupations must be rationalised in terms of the law but those guilty of violence on farms must not be eligible for incorporation into a new lawful programme.
There must be immediate compliance with all courts orders issued in connection with the "fast track" land programme.
There must be a transparent and accountable process of genuine land reform in the interests of those who need land. The reform programme must ensure that women benefit fairly and directly from land resettlement. A proper system of land tenure must be put in place and section 23 of the Constitution must be amended so that women can own land in their own right."
"Crisis in Zimbabwe: A Time to Act - Resolutions," Harare, August 4, 2001. Following the conference that adopted these resolutions, a "Crisis in Zimbabwe Coordinating Committee" was established, consisting of nine major civil society coalitions, collectively representing in excess of five hundred civil society groups. See,

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