Zimbabwe: Land and Starvation

Eleven years ago, in 1992, Zimbabwe was in the grip of famine. Its President Robert Mugabe was in the depths of despair, having just lost his wife Sally. Yet, in that year, he opened ministerial dialogue with South Africa, played a key role in bringing peace to Mozambique, and turned the famine into a political triumph by his distribution of relief food. Now, with rows over the Cricket World Cup or visits to Paris and Lisbon, any political triumph that might come his way seems muted and extracted by the grinding down of opposition.

The World Today
5 minute READ

Professor Stephen Chan OBE

Professor of World Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London

Thee first movement towards land nationalisation came in 1992. At the height of drought and famine Mugabe launched the Land Acquisition Act. After twelve years of independence, it finally set about the much-delayed process of land redistribution. It proposed acquiring five and a half million hectares, mostly from white commercial farmers who then owned just over twice as much – about a third of the entire country.

With British help, the government had already purchased some 3.3 million hectares so that, if the Act had been successful, the balance of ownership would have favoured the black majority. White farmers would have received compensation, and something like six million hectares would still be in white hands. Mugabe was not then an enemy of white farmers as such. As late as 1995, he still had a white agriculture minister.

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