By Ndafadza Madanha
AT the Lancaster House talks that brought about the independence of Zimbabwe one of the critical issues to be discussed was “What will be the future of the people’s land?”
The question of land reform and how it will be implemented in post Independent Zimbabwe nearly brought the conference to a premature close.
However, the talks were saved by a commitment by both the American and British governments to fund the land reform exercise in an independent Zimbabwe.
Both governments would later renege on their commitment when it became apparent that indigenous Zimbabweans were determined to get their land.
After independence efforts to bring about land reform by the ZANU PF government were handicapped by clauses in the constitution that restricted wholesome take-over of land in the first decade.
Equally the country’s judicial system in particular the Supreme Court which was staked by judges from the Rhodesian era obstructed any attempts to change the law and bring about land reform.
At the turn of the century when peasants begun invading farms frustrated by the pace of land reform, the Anthony Gubbay led judiciary stepped in and declared the invasions illegal.
While the Gubbay judgment underscored the need to protect property rights it failed to appreciate the historical context in which the majority of white commercial farmers attained the land.
However, the historical context of land ownership was best captured by the late national hero and former chief justice Godfrey Chidyausiku.
Chidyausiku a committed nationalist took a rather unorthodox route in legitimizing the land invasions marking a departure from the narrow interpretation of the law espoused by the Gubbay judgment.
The historical context of the land reform is best encapsulated in a ruling the late chief justice made when he was still a High Court Judge in 1994.“Once upon a time all the land in Zimbabwe belonged to the African people of this country. By some means, foul or fair, depending on whom you are in Zimbabwe, about half that land ended up in the hands of a very small minority of Zimbabweans of European descent.
The other half remained in the hands of the large majority, who were Africans. The perception of the majority of Africans was that the one half in the hands of the minority was by far the better and more fertile land, while the other half, which they occupied, was poor and semi¬-arable.
It is also common knowledge that, when the Africans lost half their land to the Europeans, they were paid nothing by way of compensation. Successive enactments on the land entrenched the inequity of the land distribution in this country.
The Land Commission of 1925, the Land Apportionment Act 30 of 1930 and the Land Tenure Act 55 of 1969 ensured that the Africans in Zimbabwe, who formed the vast majority of the population, were overcrowded in semi¬-arable land, referred to sometimes as native reserves, whilst the minority Europeans retained the better half.
In terms of the above statutes, the land in this country was divided into European and African areas. In terms of the Second Schedule to the 1969 Land Tenure Act, the total extent of the African area was 44 949 100 acres and the total extent of the European area was 44 949 300 acres.
The vast differences in the population of the two groups counted for nothing in the distribution of the land. Attempts to redress the land issue by peaceful means were not successful. The Africans took up arms and an armed struggle ensued,” wrote Chidyausiku. It is clear that Chidyausiku was well aware that the law prior to the 2000 land invasions had failed to deliver land to the landless Zimbabweans.
The much hyped willing buyer willing seller failed to deliver as less than 4 million hectares was acquired in the 20 years prior the farm invasions against the 10m hectares projected.
The failure was largely a result of the intransigence of the white farmers who were unwilling to offer land and in the instance, they did it was at exorbitant prices.
Compounding issues was the decision by our erstwhile colonizers Britain and the labour government to renege on their commitment to fund the land reform process through the infamous Clare Short letter.
Chidyausiku was fully aware that as a nationalist, he owed to his comrades of the two Chimurengas both living and departed a duty to restore the land to its rightful owners.
The legacy of the liberation struggle now reposes with the 300 000 families that are direct beneficiaries of his ruling and now proudly till the land of their forefathers.
His ruling underpinned the biggest land reform in Africa, that has witnessed over 100 000 small scale farmers produce 65 percent of the golden leaf and surpass the record of 237m kg of tobacco that was produced by white commercial farmers in 2000.
As Chidyausiku rests with other heroes at the national shrine, it is left to the living in particular the beneficiaries of the land reform to defend his legacy by ensuring the country retains its Bread Basket Status.