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The Land Reform Deception (Oxford University Press)

The Land Reform Deception, published by Oxford University Press in 2016, presents the findings of Charles Laurie’s doctoral research on the seizure of commercial farms that began in 2000. This website is primarily intended to support the content of this book.OUP Cover

The book seeks to solve the following puzzle: Why did Robert Mugabe’s government allow the chaotic redistribution of commercial agriculture, the lifeblood of the Zimbabwean economy? It explores the basic causes of the land seizure era, the extent to which they represented a genuine land redistribution effort rather than a political manoeuvre, whether the farm takeovers spiraled out of control, the true objectives of the agents involved in seizing farms, as well as various aspects of political violence experienced by farmers and farm workers.

The book explores the following key questions:

  • How did the farm invasions begin?
  • Were the wave of farm seizures planned in advance by the government?
  • Did the farm seizure campaign spiral out of control?
  • To what extent did President Mugabe support the farm seizures?
  • Were the farm invasions primarily a land redistribution or a political event?
  • What were the true objectives of agents who targeted commercial farms: land, or saleable assets?
  • Why was such extensive violence used against largely unarmed farmers and farm workers?
  • How did chronic or acute vulnerability affect farmer decision-making?
  • How did the violence experienced by farmers compared to that faced by farm workers?
  • What were the dynamics behind eight types of violence: Abduction/Unlawful arrest; Assault; Murder; Attempted murder; Rape; Torture; Intimidation/Verbal threat; Property damage/theft?

Charles’ research relied upon three unique data sets:

  • First, he coded 21,491 incidents of violence and intimidation across Zimbabwe over the 2000-2008 period. He then depicted these incidents month-by-month on 92 geographical maps, forming a quantitative mapping data set that gives insights into the proliferation of longitudinal violence.
  • Second, he personally conducted 111 interviews with farm workers, farmers, and state agents, including senior politicians and state security agents.
  • Third, he undertook a survey of 1,442 farmers — this  represents 34% of farmers operating in Zimbabwe in the year 2000.

The following is a brief sketch of the nine chapters in this book:

Chapter One: Overview of the Land Seizure Era. The Land Seizure Era is an extraordinarily contested period, riven with accusations, racial tensions, economic pressures, and long-standing historical grievances. This chapter looks to set the stage by giving an overview of the historical road that led to the compulsory seizure of commercial farms. It aims to establish the key political and socioeconomic forces at play in the period leading up to the pivotal year 2000 constitutional referendum that kicked off the takeovers. Substantial evidence of violence and intimidation paints a picture of what farm workers and farmers experienced when the invasions began. The chapter then sheds light on one of the most contentious aspects of the seizures — the degree that the public held a genuine demand for land — and explains the socio-economic outcomes of the takeovers.

Chapter Two: ZANU-PF’s Land Redistribution Gamble. The seizure of commercial farms happened suddenly and all research points to intense political pressures on President Mugabe as year 2000 approached, and no group put greater pressure on Mugabe or threatened him more than the War Veterans. This chapter explains who the war veterans were, what fulled their motivations, why Mugabe feared them, and how they were able to command so much political capital to the extent that Mugabe risked the economic fortunes of the country in a bid to placate them. In providing this evidence, the chapter explains how the precipitous Constitutional Referendum of February 2000 took place. Did Mugabe see the referendum result as a chance to finally implement his long-standing land reform agenda, or did he panic at the prospect of imminently losing political power?

Chapter Three: Mugabe Targets Agriculture — Land Reform or Political Gimmick? It stands to reason that any government contemplating a major intervention into it’s dominant industry would do so with a detailed plan, risk assessment and contingencies in place. Chapter Three explains how the government arrived at the initial, relatively modest scale of farm takeovers and how this early plan rapidly collapsed. Crucially, Charles provides evidence explaining exactly how this collapse occurred and why the specific stakeholders undermining the failure of the plan were responsible for he subsequent, rapid escalation in violent takeovers. Evidence points to the degree that the government was in control of invasions and how it ultimately sought to ensure that ZANU-PF kept the upper-hand in the invasions.

Chapter Four: Strategy behind Farm Seizures. How did farm invaders go about seizing commercial farms? This chapter examines the strategies deployed by invaders in selecting and then taking over farms. It details what kinds of people were involved in seizures and how the composition of a farm invasion group differed depending on the relative wealth and power of the leading farm invader. Data shows how ad hoc relationships rapidly developed in order to enable invaders to participate in farm seizures. Just as the seizures themselves escalated far beyond their initial planned scope, this chapter shows how farm seizures turned into violent, uncontrolled events as a result of increasing competition for limited resources among farm invader groups, and how in response farmers were forced to make desperate concessions to protect themselves, their workers and their property.

Chapter Five: Suppressing the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). A primary objectives of farm invaders was to suppress the MDC by targeting farm workers and farmers. This chapter examines where ZANU-PF concentrated violence and why, ironically, the party appeared to use higher levels of violence in provinces where the party had the most political support. Moreover, the chapter explores how ZANU-PF relied upon coercion to suppress the MDC and ultimately retain political power, and how these objectives were tied to the geographical location of MDC supporters. Evidence also shows why such extensive violence was used against largely unarmed workers and farmers when less violent methods would likely have been sufficient to take control of farms.

Chapter Six: Seizing Land and Agri-Property. A secondary objective of farm invaders was the seizure of land and agri-property. Chapter six details the extent to which farm invaders were motivated by the aim of seizing land or by capturing valuable and easily saleable agri-property, such as farm equipment, livestock and crops. This question is fundamentally important because it frames the actions of ZANU-PF and its agents as either correcting a historical injustice of landownership inequity—albeit a contested one—or engaging in common theft. The validity of ZANU-PF’s land redistribution program hinges on correcting colonially inspired land injustice, but even the ruling party provides no justification for the seizure of personal assets. The chapter also explores the typology of invaders in order to understand who they were and how their relative levels of power influenced the quantity and quality of assets they could seize. Finally, the chapter assesses how invaders located land and agri-property and the role of violence in seizure of these assets.

Chapter Seven: Moving onto Farms — The Emergence of Extortion and ‘Protection’ Schemes. The proliferation of short-term extortion schemes by invaders seeking money, land, and agri-property from farmers pointed to weakening farm security. It also highlights farm invaders’ rapid awareness of opportunities for personal gain after breakdowns in the willingness of security officials to enforce property rights. Evidence shows how extortion rackets emerged, who was targeted, and why they became so widespread. This chapter also analyzes why longer-term protection schemes were, by contrast, very rare. The chapter details the components necessary for long-term protection schemes to emerge, gives examples of how they operated, and explains why they tended to be unstable and short-lived.

Chapter Eight: Farmer Eviction Methods. Invaders sought to rapidly evict farmers. Chapter eight examines the methods used to evict farmers and seize their assets. It shows how chronic and acute vulnerability affected farmers’ decision-making about whether to remain on their farms and how to cope with security risks that threatened their safety and that of their workers and farm assets. Data show how different types of threats undermined farmers’ ability to operate their farms as a viable commercial business. Accounts also underscore that coercion tended to be experienced differently by farmers and workers because of the varying objectives of farm invaders.

Chapter Nine: Impact on Commercial Agriculture Production. The final chapter assesses the consequences of the land seizures for commercial agriculture. Data show the impact of breakdowns in property rights on agricultural production. This is followed by an in-depth discussion about the impact on the national economy of the collapse of the agricultural sector. The discussion also examines research that points to increases in production and a stabilization of the sector after the farm seizures, to understand what these findings mean and how they correlate with data put forward in this research.