Last month, I visited Harare to cover the Zimbabwe elections but found myself fascinated by the controversial fast track land reform process. This story was first published in The Hindu, but – as always – I am happy to take questions here. A thought worth considering: In the context of the discussion around the Land Bill in India, does Zimbabwe’s experience suggest that questions of land are best resolved outside of the ambit of the state?
For as long as anyone remembered, the border was a dusty track of red sun-baked earth that separated the tidy communal lands in Mhondoro, where the Shona people grew maize, from the fenced farms and private hunting reserves where white farmers grew tobacco and foreign tourists shot antelope.
Young men and women crossed over to work on estates like John Dell, Solitude and Damvuri but hurried back before dusk lest they be arrested for trespass. In the communal lands, children watched that the cattle weren’t confiscated for grazing on white lands. One night in 1998, a young man called Julius was fatally shot on the Damvuri hunting reserve on suspicion that he was poaching wildlife meant for paying guests. Border relations, villagers say, deteriorated from that day on.
A little over a year later, over 200 villagers from Mhondoro walked into Damvuri, a 32,000-acre private game reserve, as part of a nationwide wave of farm invasions that reverberated across the world. At the time, about 4,500 predominantly white farmers owned 11 million hectares, or about 35 per cent of all agricultural land in Zimbabwe while the black population was squeezed onto communal lands.
“For twenty years after independence we waited, we knew, the land is ours,” said a shopkeeper from Mhondoro. Today, 181 families live, farm, and raise cattle on Damvuri. The fences have been torn down and a new community is coalescing around the local bar, pool tables and provisions store. Across Zimbabwe, 170,000 families have settled on 10 million hectares of land since 2000.