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Zimbabwe Under Siege 2/13

Passage of the Native Reserves Order in 1899 created reserves on the most arid land, on which the indigenous inhabitants were to be herded. By 1905, nearly half of the indigenous population was confined to reserves. From 1930 onwards, Africans were not allowed to own land outside of the barren reserves. During the twenty-year period beginning in 1935, the Rhodesian regime forced an additional 67,000 African families from their homes and transported them to the reserves. As the Africans were beaten and herded into trucks at gunpoint, their homes were levelled by bulldozers. The reserves soon became overcrowded with people and cattle, and the colonial government decreed in 1944 that 49 of the reserves were overstocked. During the next thirty-some years, well over one million cattle in the reserves were either killed or confiscated for use by white settlers. As the long liberation struggle grew, Rhodesian Security Forces became increasingly repressive, executing civilians, burning villages and crops and shooting cattle. (3)

When it was clear that the apartheid Rhodesian government could not long remain in power, the Lancaster House Conference was convened in 1979. Land was the core issue for the liberation struggle, and British and American negotiators ensured that independence would not be granted without the imposition of certain conditions. One provision stipulated that for a period of 10 years, land ownership in Zimbabwe could only be transferred on a "willing seller, willing buyer" basis, which effectively limited the extent of land reform. Whites were also allotted a parliamentary quota of 20 seats, far exceeding their actual percentage of the population.

Passage of the Land Acquisition Act in 1992 finally permitted a more flexible approach to land reform, but progress continued to be constrained by outside pressure. Despite real progress, by the time the latest round of land reform was launched, 70 percent of the richest and most productive land still remained in the hands of a mere 4,500 white commercial farm owners. Meanwhile, six million African peasants eke out a precarious existence on small farms averaging 3 hectares [1 hectare = 2.47 acres] in the "communal areas," formerly native reserves. Due to the historically imposed overcrowding in the communal areas, the already barren land was further depleted by deforestation and over-grazing. (4) Over one million landless blacks were engaged as hired labor on white commercial farms, condemned to work for low wages on the land their ancestors once owned. (5) Agriculture is the most significant sector of Zimbabwe's economy. Western news reports encourage the view that land reform is harming economic performance, implying that efficient farming is best left in the hands of 4,500 wealthy white farmers, while ignoring the millions of blacks barely able to survive. The unspoken assumption is that only white farmers are capable of efficiency. The concern expressed in the West for "efficiency" is in reality a mask for the preservation of white privilege. Temporary economic dislocation is an unavoidable byproduct of land reform, but genuine and lasting progress can only be achieved through land redistribution. In the West, the gross imbalance imposed by colonial theft is accepted as the natural order in Zimbabwe, with the indigenous population lacking any claim to the land. Fast track land reform is intended to rectify historical injustices and to ensure a more equitable division of the land.

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