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ICE Case #126

Samantha Green



I. Case Background
II. Environment Aspect
III. Conflict Aspect
IV. Env. - Conflict Overlap
V. Related Information


1. Abstract

Land reform has always been a contentious issue in Zimbabwe. In 1888, white colonists under the auspices of the British South Africa Company, led by Cecil Rhodes, expropiated the country's best agricultural lands and began colonial rule. By the 1950s, the struggle for self-determination by the black majority was evident. Although the British supported voting rights for the black population, the white minority government refused to share power. In 1965, Ian Smith's regime declared independence from England and UN sanctions were placed on Rhodesia (Zimbabwe's colonial name). The war for liberation began in 1968 and lasted through 1979. At independence in 1980, around two-fifths of the total land area was occupied by the minority white commercial farmers1, while the majority black peasants remained in less arable communal areas. Negotiated ‘sunset clauses’ in the Lancaster House Agreement, which gave Zimbabwe its independence, protected white commercial farmers from government land acquisition for the first ten years. During this decade, land redistribution would be on a ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ basis.2 In 1990, the Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ) amended the constitution so that enforced land acquisitions were possible, but by 1999, eleven million hectares of the best agricultural lands were still owned by 4,500 white commercial farmers.3 Fast Track Land Reform, begun in 2000, was intended to redress land inequality. While approximately 300,000 small farmers were provided with five to ten hectares of land, and land was set aside for 51,000 black commercial farmers, the entire process was legally unclear and characterized by extreme violence, intimidation, and displacement.4 Moreover, at the end of 2002, although 11.5 million hectares were transferred from white commercial farmers to black Zimbabweans, much of this land went to government ministers and elites or was taken over by dubious war veterans.

2. Description

Land distribution in Zimbabwe is categorized by five Natural Regions (NR) in descending order of productivity.5 NR I is in the Eastern Highlands where coffee, tea, and fruit are cultivated. It also supports livestock production. NR II, located in Mashonaland, is good for maize (main food staple), tobacco (cash crop), cotton and wheat, as well as cattle. NR III is prone to drought so crop production is riskier, and NRs IV and V are generally only used for cattle and drought-resistant crops (see table 1).6

Table 1: Distribution of Land By Sector and Natural Region (%).

NRs All Land Large-scale Commercial Small-scale Commercial Communal Areas
I 1.8 3.0 0.5 0.7
II 14.8 28.6 17.8 8.7
III 17.8 17.5 37.9 17.1
IV 36.3 25.2 36.9 47.6
V 26.1 25.7 6.9 25.9

Source: Sam Moyo, ‘The Land Question,’ in Ibbo Mandaza, ed., Zimbabwe: The Political Economy of Transition, 1980-1986 (Dakar: CODESRIA, 1986), pp.165-201 at pp. 184-5, as cited in Skalnes, 1995.

The table shows that most of Zimbabwe’s land falls in NRs III-V, which is where the black majority lives on communal lands. The best land, found in NRs I and II were mostly owned by the large scale commercial farmers, of whom the majority were white.

During the first decade of independence, both the government and the white commercial farmers understood that the ‘sunset clauses’ preventing compulsory land redistribution would end in 1990, but neither side made significant movements towards fixing the imbalance. In 1992, the Land Acquisition Act gave the government power to obtain land, provided they fairly compensated the previous owner, but by the end of the 1990s, land redistribution by the government was at a standstill.7

The land conflict continued to grow as veterans from the war for independence demanded compensation for their disabilities incurred during fighting. Although a War Victims Compensation Act was passed in 1993, government ministers from the ruling ZANU-PF party were bankrupting the fund, leaving authentic war-veterans neglected.8 One of the assessors of the Fund was Chenjerai Hitler Hunzvi, who also mobilized war-veterans to demand pensions and other benefits from the government. By 1997, President Robert Mugabe acquiesced to their demands and authorized a one-time payment of over Z$5 billion as pay back to the war-veterans.9 Furthermore, every veteran would receive a monthly payment, free health care, free access to education, and land.10

Fast track land reform began in July 2000. The first goal was to acquire more than 3,000 farms for redistribution; by February 2001, there were 2,706 farms listed for compulsory acquisition.11 By October, 2001, the government had listed 4,558 farms, covering a total of 8.8 million hectares.12 But the government was not the only actor in the land seizures. War-veterans and youth brigades began squatting and occupying white commercial farms. Farmers were forcibly displaced along with their workers; resistance resulted in brutal beatings and/or death.

Many of the government ministers and elites who seize commercial farms do not have the training or skills to cultivate the land, and hence are absentee landlords on fallow lands. Moreover, when commercial farms are seized, the employed farmworkers are chased off the land as well, so there are few farms in actual production. This has sustained Zimbabwe’s already precarious economic situation and has created rampant food insecurity throughout the country.

3. Duration: 2000-2003

The land issue in Zimbabwe is over one hundred years old, but the conflict surrounding land reform is more recent. Fast track land reform began in 2000 and although the government claimed it was over in 2003, evidence proves otherwise. By 2003, there were still 2,500 white commercial farmers in the country, and 1,000 still had their property.13 Of these farmers, approximately 650 of them were farming, yet only about half were meeting with success.14 Furthermore, land seizures have continued, as many small-scale farmers who were resettled from the communal areas are now being removed from their farms because ZANU-PF officials want that land.15

4. Location

Continent: Africa

Region: Southern Africa

Country: Zimbabwe

5. Actors

Government of Zimbabwe and opponents

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Environment Aspect

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Habitat Loss

Economic: Land reform in Zimbabwe has affected tobacco production, which plays an important role in its economy as the country’s top foreign exchange earner. Historically, Zimbabwe was the second largest exporter of tobacco in the world, but following the past few years of land reform it has fallen behind countries such as the United States, India, Brazil, Malawi, Italy, and China (see table 2).16

Table 2: Tobacco production in metric tonnes (mt).

2000 2003 2004
237,000 82,000 60,000

Source: IRIN 23 Feb 2004

As shown in the table above, tobacco production decreased by 65 percent between 2000 and 2003, and is predicted to decline even further in 2004. Diminishing production is directly linked to the loss of commercial farms that cultivate tobacco as a result of Mugabe’s land reform policy.

Maize production has decreased as well. April 2003’s harvest produced 900,000 metric tonnes, about 1 million short of what was needed countrywide.17 Current harvest forecasts predict that in 2004, Zimbabwe will be 40 percent short of what it needs, since high inflation and seed shortages only allowed farmers to plant three-quarters of the amount of maize planted last season.18 Although two years of drought has contributed to the severe food shortage, experts believe that Mugabe’s seizure of commercial farms is the number one reason for the food shortage.

Food insecurity has increased considerably since fast track land reform was implemented. The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet) estimated that the number of rural Zimbabweans in need of food aid increased from 4.4 million to 5 million people and that in the urban centers, 2.5 million people are food insecure.19 The UN World Food Program is able to feed 5.5 million people which is 2 million less than the total in need.20 Furthermore, 31 percent of displaced farmworkers have relocated to urban areas and are now part of the population that suffers from food scarcity.

Food aid that enters Zimbabwe is restricted to ZANU-PF strongholds; most urban centers support the MDC opposition, so receive little, if any food assistance.21 The government has also been accused of profiting from an illegal trade in food, since the maize held by the parastatal Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is sold at a ‘considerable’ profit.22

Unemployment has increased considerably since the land reform. When land is seized from commercial farmers, their farm workers are chased away as well. More than 300,000 farmworkers are now unemployed and displaced due to land reform.23 The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) reported that 72 percent of the urban population was below the poverty line, double what it was in 1995.24

Social: More than 300,000 farm workers have been displaced as a result of land reform. Amani Trust, a Zimbabwean NGO that provides care for victims of torture and violence, interviewed one hundred thirty nine displaced farm workers from Mashonaland, who were harassed by war-veterans that seized the commercial farms where they were employed. The table below describes the scope and degree of violence inflicted upon the farm workers. Assaults range from basic slapping and kicking to more severe forms of torture, such as beatings with irons and rape. It also reflects the number and percentage of those workers who experienced the abuse (see table 3).

Table 3: Scope of violence.

Type of Assault Number Percentage
Slapping; Kicking; Punching 46 33%
Blows with rifle butts; sticks; whips; irons 58 42%
Exposure to extreme cold or heat 39 28%
Hanging or suspension 10 7%
Prolonged standing or crouching 28 20%
Submarine immersion; asphyxiation; strangling 6 4%
Burning 5 4%
Electrical shocks 1 1%
Rape 4 3%

Source: Amani Trust Report: 31 May 2002

Such abuse is delivered with impunity. James Sani, a former employee of a white farmer, described being chased off the land by war-veterans and ZANU-PF party youth. He stated they seized the farm, held a gun to the owner's head, and beat him and his fellow workers with iron bars and axes.25 Those who were responsible for the beatings were never brought to justice.

Many displaced farm workers are now living in camps where living conditions are appalling. Workers live in tents and cook donated food. Other displaced workers have set-up squatter communities on the outskirts of their former places of work, where shelter, sanitation facilities, and basic health care are lacking. Children of the displaced do not have access to education since their parents can no longer afford to pay school fees.26

Some farm workers have found employment on newly owned black farms, but complain of exploitative working conditions. Silent Bhauleni, a fifty-five year old farm worker whose former employer lost his farm to land reform, says that black owners "expect us to provide them with labor on their farms for free, or for very little money." He also says that workers are not given full-time employment, but instead are contracted out. "This means that we have to depend on the money that we get from the piece jobs we do for them in order to survive, but that is not enough." Those who refuse contract work are viewed as enemies of the black farm owners, since they are perceived as supporters of white farmers and therefore anti-land reform.27

Political: Fast track land reform is but one example of the deteriorating political situation. The government systematically harasses, intimidates, and tortures the political opposition, media, and members of civil society.28 The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) of 2002 makes it a crime for two or more people to meet and discuss politics without first obtaining a permit from the police four days in advance. Additionally, the police have the right to prohibit anyone from attending an authorized political discussion and are entitled to break them up without justification.29

Prior to the latest elections, opposition members of the MDC were jailed, threatened, and tortured, which dissuaded about half the potential MDC candidates from running for district offices.30

7. Type of Habitat: Temperate

8. Act and Harm Sites: Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe

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Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Civil

10. Level of Conflict: Low

11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)

There is on-going intimidation and torture of MDC supporters. In 2002, there were 1,061 cases of torture and 58 political murders.31 See the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum for monthly reports on political violence and toture.

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IV. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics: Direct

Causal Diagram

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Regional


14. Outcome of Dispute: On-going

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V. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases

16. Relevant Websites and Literature



International Crisis Group

Human Rights Watch

Movement for Democratic Change

Justice for Agriculture

The Independent

Relief Web



  1. Skalnes, Tor, 1995. The Politics of Economic Reform in Zimbabwe, New York: St. Martin's Press. p.154
  2. Human Rights Watch, Fast Track Land Reform In Zimbabwe.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Sachikonye, Lloyd. "Land Reform for Poverty Reduction? Social Exclusion and Farm Workers in Zimbabwe," Paper prepared for the IDMP Conference, Manchester, England. April 2003.
  5. Skalnes, p.155.
  6. Ibid.
  7. HRW.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Sachikonye, Lloyd. "Whither Zimbabwe? Crisis & Democratisation," Review of African Political Economy, No 91. 2002.
  10. Gourevitch, Philip. "Wasteland," The New Yorker, 3 June 2002.
  11. HRW.
  12. Ibid.
  13. International Crisis Group, Zimbabwe: Danger and Opportunity, 10 March 2003.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. IRIN 23 February 2004.
  17. Wines, Michael. "In Zimbabwe, Even the Farmers Are Going Hungry," The New York Times, 29 Februaury 2004.
  18. Ibid.
  19. EIU Zimbabwe Country Report, March 2004.
  20. Wines, "In Zimbabwe."
  21. EIU Country Report; Wines, "In Zimbabwe."
  22. EIU Country Report.
  23. Wines, Michael. "Corruption and Despair Choke Zimbabwe," The New York Times, 19 October 2003.
  24. IRIN 8 March 2004.
  25. Godwin, Peter. "A Land Possessed," National Geographic, August 2003.
  26. IRIN 23 March 2004.
  27. Ibid.
  28. International Crisis Group, Zimbabwe: The Politics of National Liberation and International Division, 17 October 2002.
  29. Gourevitch, "Wasteland."
  30. ICG, 17 October 2002.
  31. ICG, 10 March 2003.

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May 5, 2004