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In 1979 I began to realise that whatever they made of Amin’s brutality, the Ugandan people experienced the Asian expulsion of 1972 – and not the formal handover in 1962 – as the dawn of true independence.The people of Zimbabwe are likely to remember 2000-3 as the end of the settler colonial era.
The inadequacy of the Lancaster House provisions for the decolonisation of land ensured that it remained the focus of politics in independent Zimbabwe.
There is no denying Mugabe’s authoritarianism, or his willingness to tolerate and even encourage the violent behaviour of his supporters.
His policies have helped lay waste the country’s economy, though sanctions have played no small part, while his refusal to share power with the country’s growing opposition movement, much of it based in the trade unions, has led to a bitter impasse.
The seizure of white-owned farms by his black supporters has been depicted as a form of thuggery, and as a cause of the country’s declining production, as if these lands were doomed by black ownership.
Sanctions have been imposed, and opposition groups funded with the explicit aim of unseating him.
When the Lancaster House Agreement’s rules on land transfer expired in 1990, the pressure to take direct action was intensified by two very different developments: an IMF Structural Adjustment Programme and recurrent drought.
Peasant production, which had been a meagre 8 per cent of marketed output at independence in 1980, and had shot up to 45 per cent by 1985, declined as a result of the programme.
At this point Zimbabwean law still defined a squatter in racial terms, as ‘an African whose house happens to be situated in an area which has been declared European or is set apart for some other reason’.
By 1990, 40 per cent of the rural population was said to be landless or affected by the landlessness of dependent relations.
Two of its provisions, one economic and the other political, reflected this short-termism: one called for land transfers on a ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ basis, with the British funding the scheme; the other reserved 20 per cent of seats in the House of Assembly for whites – 3 per cent of the population – giving the settler community an effective veto over any amendment to the Lancaster House terms. Both provisions had a time limit: 1990 for land transfers based on the market principle, and 1987 for the settler minority to set limits on majority rule.
The deal sustained illusions among the settlers that what they had failed to achieve by UDI – Smith’s 1965 declaration of independence from the UK – and force of arms, they could now achieve through support from a government of ‘kith and kin’ (as Smith called it) in Britain.
The course of land relations and land reform in Zimbabwe has over the years been meticulously documented by Sam Moyo, a professor who directs the African Institute of Agrarian Studies in Harare.