Title to land and the farm invasions

23 January 2012

Ben Freeth

Farm Invasions and Title to land – a brief synopsis of the last 12 years in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe there have been two phases to the farm invasions.  The first phase was where the poorer of the ZANU PF supporters were issued with plots in return for intimidating the farmer and the farm workers ahead of elections in 2000 and in 2002.  They were generally given small plots of 15 hectares or so in the higher rainfall areas and bigger plots in the lower rainfall areas. 

In order to bring some semblance of order in the first phase,  the AGRITEX officers were tasked with going around the farms with paint pots and walking around in lines painting numbers on trees of fence posts every few hundred paces.  No planning was done whatsoever apart from this.  Some plots would contain good land other plots would be in a vlei or wetland or in a patch of mopane  woodland unfit for cultivation.   Each plot was then given out to the assembled company normally on a lottery basis where they drew outnumbered bottle tops from a hat.  No title was given to the new invader.  There was some paperwork from the DA’s office in some districts but not in others.

Meanwhile the farmer who was in the vast majority of cases still on the farm without any knowledge of what was going on, was ordered by police or the DA to “co-exist.”  One day he would be farming on his farm and the next he would have perhaps 50 families busy cutting down hundreds of trees each to make houses.  Cattle were moved on without veteraniary clearance and movement permits,  bringing disease with them.  Fence-lines were cut to bring in scotch carts.  Land that the farmer had prepared was planted by the invaders with government donated seed.  Snares were set up to poach all the game.  The farmer’s cattle were driven out and ended up with no grazing and many were poached or stolen or died of due to lack of grazing. Where farm workers resisted their houses were burnt down or they were beaten.  In some cases entire farm compounds were burnt down.

A bit later it would be decided that the farmer’s house or the barns around it should be made into a school and so the invaders would harass the farmer by holding pungwes* on his lawn and slaughtering his cattle and stopping him and his workers working the farm until he and his family would finally give up and leave.

The second phase took place once fear had been established amongst the commercial farmers and  the farm workers and they had realized that they had no law or law enforcers left to protect them.  This phase involved the chefs who were given whole farms – sometimes on a multiple basis.  The second phase came after 2002 when the laws had been altered to allow police to arrest farmers at will for the crime of farming or living in their own homes.  This happened on a massive scale in August 2002. 

It was at this stage also that the chefs openly came onto the farms with their offer letters – often for the entire farm - and employed thugs to harass the farmer and his family until he left.   Since 2008 there have been a few cases where the farmer was evicted with an eviction order from the magistrate’s court after a lengthy court case – but approximately 99 percent of evictions took place without any eviction order from any court of any sort – and with no compensation for anything.  In many cases entire standing crops were stolen; all the farmers machinery, seed and fertilizer with assistance from police was stolen;  whole herds of cattle were taken; entire populations of game were decimated. 

As a result of the whole process having been completed illegally no financial institutions are prepared to lend money to the people that have invaded the farms because none of them have any sort of bankable security. 

Latterly 99-year leases have been handed to some invaders – but they are well aware that such leases are not tradable or bankable and can be cancelled by Government at any moment.

During the days of hyper inflation, loans were handed out from the Reserve Bank at massive negative interest rates of 30 percent – when inflation was running at hundreds or thousands of percent rendering any requirement to pay back any money completely academic.  Large amounts of machinery were also handed out – especially to high ranking ZANU PF officials.  When diesel was almost impossible to procure, free diesel and seed and fertilizer was also handed out.  During this time some farming was done on this free money and free inputs – and irrigation schemes and other infrastructure was also developed on some of the farms by well connected officials.  Since the reality of dollarization this has not continued.                

Each year now, on the majority of farms, the people have to be fed by the donor community.  The infrastructure continues to be stripped and the weeds and thorn trees grow up on once very productive land.  Of the 200,000 or 300,000 hectares of irrigable land only perhaps 10,000 hectares are still in use.   The national wheat crop last year was 10,000 tons – down from 300,000 tons when the invasions started.   

Ben Freeth
23 January 2012

 The mopane tree grows in hot, dry, low-lying areas, 200-1 150 m, in the far northern parts of South Africa, into Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Angola and Malawi. It is found growing in alkaline (high lime content) soils which are shallow and not well drained. It also grows in alluvial soils (soil deposited by rivers).

These beautiful trees with their distinctive butterfly-shaped leaves and round seedpods


*Pungwes - are all-night indoctrination sessions which rural Zimbabweans are forced by ZANU PF to attend, often at gunpoint. During the sessions, MDC supporters or perceived supporters are made an example of and are beaten severely.  Many people have died as a result of the vicious beatings and subsequent denial of medical attention.