The Crisis of Expectations, Land Reform, and Conflict

Seeds of the Zimbabwean crisis were sowed very early on in the ZANU-PF’s reign. As previously noted, these included the inherited structural distortions from colonialism, which were allowed to deepen after independence. The economy also failed to grow strong enough to enable the new government to sustain its increased spending on social services by which it projected itself as a caring government. The inflation started to rise as early 1983; the Zimbabwe dollar exchange rate fell, while the deficits in the current and capital accounts increased.9 This meltdown coincided with a bad drought and a combination of military incursions and trade blockage by apartheid South Africa, all of which negatively affected the economy. Neither the fiscus, nor donor funding could cover the costly willing buyer, willing seller-based land reform program.

The state’s crisis management response incorporated a self-imposed stabilization program of 1982, which included the devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar, restrictions on new non-concessionary foreign borrowing, balance of payment controls, price controls, a wage freeze, and export incentives. This was followed by even more severe austerity measures imposed by the IMF and the WB, until ideological differences with the Zimbabwean government led to an abrupt closure of the program.10

As socioeconomic conditions deepened, the plunder of state resources, nepotism, and kleptocracy worsened. Polarization between the state and the increasingly militant civil society also deepened. In this context, trade unions, students’ organizations, and social movements became even more militant and politicized.11

The engagement of the IMF, which led to the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) of 1991, meant more tightening of the belt, with big cuts to social spending and the downsizing of state and industry. This led to deeper poverty and retrenchments, further angering the militant civil society. By 1995, the budget deficit had risen to over 8 percent, while economic growth rate had shrunk to 0.8 percent.12 The ensuing hostile relationship between the IMF and the government culminated in the IMF’s withdrawal in 1999. Indicative of popular discontent, the number of strikes and protests over socioeconomic conditions increased dramatically between 1990 and 1998.13

The historically and ideologically important process of land redistribution had failed in this context. A major thrust of the postcolonial agricultural policy was to achieve redress of inherited inequalities through the reallocation of land, the development of marketing infrastructure, and extension services. But there was actually very little land redistribution in the first decade of independence. By 1990, the land reform process had only yielded three million hectares of land for black beneficiaries, 40 percent of which was not conducive for farming.14 The economic climate, restrictions imposed by the Lancaster Agreement, state mismanagement of the process, and profit-seeking by landlords had conspired in this failure.15 The United Kingdom’s pledge to provide funds toward land resettlement was not fully and consistently honored. According to a former U.K. high commissioner to Africa, the United Kingdom gave forty-seven million pounds between 1981 and 1988, but there is no indication of how these amounts were used, or what happened after 1988.16 The Zimbabwean government became complacent, while the United Kingdom started to show a loss of interest as the second decade approached.

As a result, only 14 percent of the total land targeted for resettlement was acquired between 1986 and 1990. Furthermore, 27 percent of households were resettled compared to 70 percent during the preceding five-year period. The communal land reorganization program slowed down. Between 1986 and 1991, plans had been drawn up for only four out of ninety villages in the UMP (Uzumba-Maramba- Pfungwe) district.17

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