History Monday: The Lancaster House Agreement – Land Reform

Robert Mugabe and his supporters were pressured into agreeing to wait ten years before instituting land reform. The three-month-long conference almost failed to reach an accord due to disagreements on land reform. Mugabe was pressured to sign and land was the key stumbling block. Both the British and American governments offered to compensate white citizens for any land sold so as to aid reconciliation (the “Willing buyer, Willing seller” principle) and a fund was established, to operate from 1980 to 1990.

Independence saw the transfer of power from the minority whites to the black majority; the first phase of land reform, partly funded by the United Kingdom, resettled around 70,000 landless people on more than 20,000 km² of land in the new Zimbabwe. In 1981 the British assisted in setting up a Zimbabwe conference on reconstruction and development, at which more than £630 million of international aid was pledged.There was however only a minimal transfer of land to the black masses. Land still belonged to the descendants of the British settlers. At the expiry of the 10 year moratorium on land the government started reviewing land reform, or rather lack of it, as the white farmers had not been forthcoming in relinquishing land under the ‘willing buyer willing seller’ clause of the Lancaster House Constitution.

In 1997 War veterans began receiving individual personal payments of ZW$50,000 each for their service in the war, costing the nation’s tax payers billions of dollars and depleting government coffers. Then some months later Robert Mugabe announced the forced acquisition of land under Section 8 would proceed, and within 24 hours the local currency had devalued more than 50% and thus began the hyper-inflation and demonetization of Zimbabwean currency and the “Flights of Whites” from the country. Most never to return. In the time since independence, the Lancaster House Agreement was modified and changed more than 27 times according to a Zimbabwe independent newspaper. Funds that had been promised by the British had not been provided either. Only £44 million had come through against a budget of $US 2 billion. Whilst the Conservative government was not that forthcoming with resources, they were at least willing to engage in discussions. That was soon to change when the Labor Party took office at number 10 Downing Street in 1997.


  1. Mupandawana, M. (2013) ‘Britain’s colonial obligations and land reform in Zimbabwe’
  2. McGreal, C. (2002) ‘The trail from Lancaster House’

One comment

  1. You touch on a very controversial and in my case highly personal topic. I like the objectivity but can you give your personal opinion on land reform


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