GOVERNMENT was warned of the consequences of a chaotic land reform exercise 12 years ago but chose to implement its fast track land programme anyway in 2000, it emerged this week.
A letter in the possession of the Zimbabwe Independent, written to the Office of the President in February 1992 by Reverend Gary Strong, a retired Methodist clergyman and former head of World Vision Zimbabwe, warned the government against the enactment of the Land Acquisition Bill (1992), which became law in the same year.
Strong advised the government that land reform had to be done in an organised way and that government should let an “independent judiciary remain the final arbiters of what is just and fair regarding the rights of land ownership”.
A copy of government’s reply to Strong, dated March 5 1992, and signed by the late Vice-President Simon Muzenda, dismissed his suggestions.
Strong outlined 18 points in which he predicted disaster if government embarked on an unplanned land reform.
This took the form of farm invasions spearheaded by so-called war veterans starting in February 2000 after government lost a constitutional referendum that would have allowed it to seize land without having to pay compensation to the owner.
Strong’s letter cited Mozambique and Angola whose wholesale expulsion of whites led to decades of economic woes. Zimbabwe faced the same fate if it chose the way of chaos, Strong predicted.
A disorganised land reform, the letter warned, would lead to greedy politicians grabbing land for themselves and owning many farms at the expense of the landless black majority.
Strong’s letter said the government wanted to implement the land reform programme for populist reasons.
“I believe the Bill is designed to win the popularity of Zanu PF rather than for the good of the nation,” he said.
Strong argued in his letter that government needed a proper budget to undertake such a big exercise. He also said farm workers would be adversely affected by the land reform process.
Strong also warned of an ecological disaster if land reform was not properly implemented and closely monitored. Recent resettlement has led to reports of rampant poaching and deforestation.
However, Environment and Tourism minister Francis Nhema dismissed such reports saying: “Reports that land reform has destroyed the environment are not true. Clearing of the land was done in areas that had been lying fallow for cultivation purposes. Animals were relocated to avoid poaching in areas where people were resettled close to game reserves.”