History Monday: Zimbabwe Economy 4

2000 to 2008



The year 2000 saw events that became known to define the true nature of the government of Zimbabwe and its main agenda in respect to its populist/socialist policies. The governments respect or lack thereof for property rights became exposed not only in 2000 but in this decade, between the years 2000 to 2008 the economy of the country collapsed.

On the 13th of February 2000 the new constitution was rejected by 55% and this marked the first major political defeat of the ruling party, against a political and civic opposition that made a national impression in a very short time. Tsvangirai announced that the party would field candidates for all 120 seats and predicted the end of ZANU-PFs twenty-four year rule, privately owned newspapers published photographs of MDC officials briefing white farmers on their manifesto, which guaranteed the rights of all Zimbabweans regardless of colour. The MDC announced that any distribution of land would be done transparently and in keeping with the law. Farmers wrote out cheques to the party and many became members. The no vote of the referendum was mainly blamed on the MDC and the white farmers, war veterans claiming that this defeat signifies the control that the ‘white farmers’ had, and the MDC was named the puppet party made for regime change.

Within a few days of the constitutional referendum, a rag-tag army of former guerrillas invaded white owned farms and occupied land throughout the country in a co-ordinated operation. The government provided Z$20 million (US$ 500 000) to fund the war vets, and the severity of attacks ranged from courteous negotiation to total occupation of the farmers home, forcing him and his family to withdraw to a neighbouring property or the safety of the nearest town. The police commissioner ordered the police not to intervene in ‘political matters’, and the rural communities were left to fend for themselves. This was a violent land reform program popularly known as the ‘Farm Invasions’.

To understand the grievances of the Zimbabwean people there is need to expose the land situation in the country. At independence about 6000 white commercial farmers owned 15. Million hectors of land while 8,500 small-scale African farmers had 1.4 million. The rest, an estimated 700 000 communal farming households, subsisted on 16.4 million hectors. In other words, these households occupied less than 50per cent of all agricultural land, of which 75per cent was in the drier less fertile agro-ecological regions 4 and 5. There was therefore a keenly felt sense of historical injustice and deprivation over the question of land. So it is this injustice that gave the war veterans a reason to invade the white owned farms.

Where the blame should lie for the failure to change the racially skewed nature of land ownership in Zimbabwe has been a key point in diplomatic interactions over the current land crisis. In the first two decades of independence, Zimbabwe received financial assistance from various governments, including Britain, which provided £44 million through a “land resettlement grant” and budgetary support to the Zimbabwe government. The land resettlement grant was mostly spent by 1988 and formally expired in 1996. Conditions were put on the way that the money handed over could be used. Britain in particular, especially under the Conservative Party government in power from 1979 to 1997, favoured redistribution based on government purchase of land from willing sellers at full market prices, a bias that contributed to the purchase of scattered, low-quality land for resettlement. In 1997, the new British Labour Party government proposed that its new policy directing development assistance to poverty alleviation guide its support for land reform. But Minister for International Development Clare Short wrote to the Zimbabwean government stating that “we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe.” The donor community also raised various problems with the way in which the funds provided for land redistribution were disbursed; arguments that the Zimbabwean government rejected not least on the basis that the money paid was as a matter of historical obligation rather than development assistance. Zimbabwe accused the new British government of following the same racist policies as its predecessors. It was this reason that again justified the land invasions in the country, and throughout the course of the invasions the above reason was seemingly the most important cause of the invasions. The shift in the new British government policy on land issue in Zimbabwe was seen by the government as refusal to honour its promise and this was enough to start the invasions. The questions that can be asked are why in 2000 after the rejection of the referendum, but answers to this question will depend on ones perspective on the land question.

It is important to understand that Land occupation did not start with the farm occupations in 2000. They had been taking place since the 1980s. The intensity of the farm occupations has, however, tended to vary, largely because of the political environment. It can be observed that land occupations tended to increase during election periods. Also the unresolved nature of the Land question has meant that the situation can be exploited for political objectives. Many experts believe that this was the case during the occupations in 2000. There were unconfirmed reports that the US and the UK governments promised a package of USD1.5 billion to break the log jam in the negotiations about how land reform should be addressed. However whatever the actual pledge might have been, it was not enshrined in the Lanchester House Constitution, which instead contained onerous clauses on the protection of private property, including land.

The results of the land reform programme were as follows. In April 2001, the objectives of the land reform and resettlement program were, among other things, said to be to acquire not less than 8.3 million hectares from the large scale commercial farming sector for redistribution (an increase from the five million hectares stated in 1998). In October 2001, the government announced that it intended to list for acquisition 4,558 farms, covering 8.8 million hectares. In the same month, based on a survey of its members, the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) estimated that 1,948 farms had been physically occupied and that the number of people occupying farms had risen to 104,000 from an estimated 25,000 at the end of 2000, with an overall average of fifty-three occupiers per farm. By the end of 2001, about 250 farmers out of the CFU’s total membership of 3,500 had left their farms over the previous year, and the Ministry of Land, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement had recorded that 114,830 households had physically moved and resettled on 4.37 million hectares. By January 2002, up to 6,481 farms had been listed for acquisition. Of these, 918 had been removed because they were counted twice, and 689 were delisted after litigation or negotiation; leaving a total of 4,874 listed farms, or 9.23 million hectares of land.

The next phase of this chapter is now to expose the ultimate consequences of the Land reform programme in Zimbabwe, mainly focusing on the economy.  The Reserve bank of Zimbabwe gave the government a report criticising the farm occupations and predicting major fall-out on three fronts:

  • All foreign investment would disappear.
  • There would be no money from the IMF
  • Many farmers had mortgaged their properties, and unless they could grow and sell crops, they would default on their loans to the commercial banks, creating a financial crisis

The government did not respond to this criticism and so, these farm invasions had terrible economic and social consequences. A 2002 study of farmworkers noted several indicators relating to the impact of the land reform programme on this group: the occupations led in a huge drop in employment levels, estimated at 70per cent in the Midlands and 65per cent in the two Matabeleland provinces; by mid-2000 an estimated 900 000 people had been affected by the evictions; less than 5 per cent of farm workers were granted land; the loss of incomes and access to housing and safe water affected the capacity of households to care for the sick in particular those affected by HIV/AIDS.

According to the Commercial Farmers’ Union, the total output of the agricultural industry in Zimbabwe in 2000 was 4.3 million tons of agricultural products, worth, at today’s prices, some US$3.347 billion. This output has declined to just over 1.348 million tons of products in 2009, worth some US$1 billion—a decline of 69 percent in volume and a decline of 70 percent in value. It is not often appreciated that smallholder farmers have been just as badly affected as the large-scale commercial farmers. Their production in 2008 was 73 percent lower than their production in 2000. According to the government-appointed Utete Commission, during the first three years of land reform, some 250,000 people and their 1.3 million dependents were forcibly displaced from commercial farms alone. The combined costs of the land reform are staggering they include US$2.8 billion in international food aid on an emergency basis, nearly US$12 billion in lost agricultural production over 10 years, and a potential US$5 billion in compensation a total of some US$20 billion. It is time to give all farmers secure tenure that will enable them to finance their operations properly. Such policies cannot be implemented until the issue of the rights of the farm owners is resolved and the issue of compensation addressed. Another example was maize production, it declined from an average annual output of about 1.7 million tonnes in the mid-1990s to about one million tonnes between 2000 and 2004. During most of this decade, the country therefore needed to import maize to meet its full needs. Thus from having been a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe became a food importer during this lost decade. Similarly wheat production declined from about 270,000 tonnes in 1998 to 62,000 in 2007, thus falling well short of the national requirement of 350,000 tonnes.

In industrial crops, there was a more mixed picture in production trends. From an average annual output of about 200 million kilograms, tobacco production plummeted to 65 million kg in 2004.It declined further to below 60 million kg in 2008. However it recovered to 110 million kg in 2010 although this was still about 50per cent of average annual output some 10 years earlier[51]. The table above provides depicting the relative decline in agrarian production in selected commodities between 1998 and 2007. More generally when Zimbabwe’s agricultural performance is measured by per capita value added, it can be shown that it has declined from its peak in 2001 to about half that level in 2006. This drop explained not only by the impact of the (Fast Track Land Reform) FTLR on commercial production, but also by critical input constraints. (UNDP, 2008:156).

What this meant was that Zimbabwe did not export as much as it used to and they also could not provide enough farm produce for its population. This also meant that agriculture as a means to export in order to generate income for the country had rapidly gone down. The country’s capacity to make money out of agriculture suffered and provision of goods to its people depleted and this affected the economy on drastically. Individuals that were affected instantly are the farm workers who worked in white owned farms.

Prior to the FTLR, there were about 320,000 farm workers on white commercial farms, supporting a population of about two million. At the end of the reform period, an estimated 220,000 farm workers had lost their jobs as the number of white farmers dwindled to about 400. By 2007, an estimated 85,000 full-time workers were still in employment, mainly on agro-industrial plantations such as those producing sugar, tea and timber. In addition, there were about 40,000 to 50,000 casual and part-time workers on various farms, including those of the remaining white farmers.


  1. Vusani, M (2015) ‘Economic downfall of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 2008’


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