For “Better” or For “Worse”: Aftermath of Zimbabwe’s Racial Land Redistribution

By: Kyle Byard
Blog Category: International Law & Race

Beginning in 2000, Zimbabwe underwent a drastic change in land ownership among its citizens. President Robert Mugabe, a staunch revolutionary, implemented a fast-track land reform policy that essentially redistributed farmland from white farmers to black farmers. The racial basis of this land redistribution is pretty blatant. During an interview, President Mugabe stated, “Zimbabwe belonged to the Zimbabweans, pure and simple.” He believes white Zimbabweans, or “British settlers,” have a “debt to pay” for taking the land illegally from the original, indigenous people of Zimbabwe.

Depending on how one is affected, this reform program is considered a failure or a success. White farmers have faced violent takeovers of their land, resulting in the death of about eighteen farmers and a majority of farm workers being “driven away from their homes.”  Under the program, nationality of white farmers is irrelevant; they are viewed as “British settlers,” not citizens of Zimbabwe. There have also been negative effects on the economy, including growths in unemployment, hyperinflation destroying Zimbabwe’s currency, and the declination of wheat, coffee, tea, and maize production.

On the other hand, this program has had a positive effect on black farmers of Zimbabwe. The land reform turned 6,000 white farmers into 245,000 black farmers, most of which were too poor to obtain land through other means. As a result of this program, black farmers obtained small plots of land, which they continue to work. While certain crops’ yields have plummeted, tobacco production has risen and become a major cash crop. In 2011, black farmers shared $400 million in tobacco growth, each averaging $6000 of income. New investments in land have also reached the country’s infrastructure, such as the construction of schools, dams and roads.

There is no easy solution to this racial division of land. President Mugabe has alienated a portion of Zimbabwe’s citizens – white farmers. The land reform diminishes or strips them of their livelihood and forces them to start anew elsewhere. Even though some may have been born as a Zimbabwean, white farmers are seen as “visitors.” This program fights oppression with oppression – accepting violence and intimidation as a means to an end. However, this policy allows black farmers to advance in an industry where they have faced many difficulties. It allows black Zimbabweans to take control of their land and find economic success where they originally had little or none. It, in turn, gives them a sense of nationalist pride after the years of white-minority rule. The effects of the new economy have hit Zimbabwe hard, and the change in its agricultural market will require time for adjustment.

In the end, only time can tell where Zimbabwe goes from here.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.  


Brook Amos, Recognizing Historical Disparages to Help Zimbabwe Move Forward, J. Gender Race & Just. (Oct. 02, 2009),

Mugabe Denies Blame for Zimbabwe, CNN (Sept. 24 2009),

Colin Freeman, The End of an Era for Zimbabwe’s Last White Farmers?, The Telegraph, June 26, 2011,

Godfrey Marawanyika, Thank You, Mr. Mugabe: Zimbabwe’s Forced Land Redistribution Led to Huge Controversy – but it has Transformed the Lives of Thousands of Small Farmers, The Independent, Nov. 05, 2013, available at–but-it-has-transformed-the-lives-of-thousands-of-small-farmers-8923229.html

Prof. Ian Scoones, Robert Mugabe’s Violent Seizure of White Farms Liberated Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Sector, Int’l Bus. Times, Nov. 25, 2013, available at

Lydia Polgreen, In Zimbabwe Land Takeover, a Golden Lining, N.Y. Times, July 20, 2012, available at

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