Academic journal article American University International Law Review

Fast Track to Collapse: How Zimbabwe's Fast-Track Land Reform Program Violates International Human Rights Protections to Property, Due Process, and Compensation

Academic journal article American University International Law Review

Fast Track to Collapse: How Zimbabwe's Fast-Track Land Reform Program Violates International Human Rights Protections to Property, Due Process, and Compensation

Article excerpt


Since 2000, Zimbabwe has embarked upon a controversial fast-track land reform program to redistribute large commercial farms mostly owned by white farmers to landless black Zimbabweans who were dispossessed during colonialism.1 Today, the program continues to spark controversy and violence against white landowners.2 On October 26, 2010, Kobus Jobert became another victim of the chaotic land reform program, when his wife was assaulted and he was murdered in his home by a gang, after his home was identified for redistribution.3 In spite of the violence resulting from the land reform program, individual blacks own no more land today than they did during the colonial period.4

This comment explores the reasons why Amendments 16A and 16B of the Zimbabwean Constitution, which authorize fast-track land reform, violate minimum international standards regarding the right to property and due process.5 Part I will explain how Zimbabwe's colonial history has led to its current drastic land reform policy.6 It will further define the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Banjul Charter) which guarantee the right to property and due process of the law.7

Part II will argue that although land reform is needed in Zimbabwe, its current law is arbitrary, racially discriminatory, disregards due process, and denies compensation for property takings.8 It will further argue that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal's decision that Zimbabwe's land reform is discriminatory and denies access to the courts conforms to international standards, and that Zimbabwe is required to follow it.9

Part III recommends that Zimbabwe recognize the SADC Tribunal's decision and implement its judgment domestically.10 This section also encourages Zimbabwe to amend its constitution to meet international standards.11 Lastly, the Comment concludes that Zimbabwe is currently heading down a dangerous path, which isolates it and decreases its legitimacy within the international community.12 Thus, if Zimbabwe changes its law to respect human rights standards, it can begin to rectify these errors.13


When President Mugabe became the first president of the independent Zimbabwe in 1980, he pledged to undo the devastating effects of colonialism and improve the plight of oppressed Africans in Zimbabwe.14 Since land reform efforts have begun, Mugabe has not met this promise, as black Zimbabweans who have received land in redistribution often have limited resources or insufficient funds to productively use the land they are given.15 Remaining white landowners have insecure tenure and are victimized by those carrying out violent evictions.16 Investors are hesitant to invest money in Zimbabwe because there is insecure tenure and no promise of fair compensation for redistributed property.17 Over 500,000 ex-farm workers have become internally displaced after their employers were evicted from land.18 Today, these tensions pervade public policy, economics, and legal discourse.19


When Zimbabwe gained independence from Great Britain in 1980, it agreed to restrict compulsory land expropriations for ten years.20 During these years, Zimbabwe used a "willing buyer, willing seller" method to redistribute land.21 This voluntary land redistribution method allowed individuals to purchase land from private landowners with government loans.22 While this program did redistribute some land, critics complained that the process moved too slowly.23

In 1992, Zimbabwe passed the Land Acquisition Act to allow the government to acquire land compulsorily from owners, accompanied by fair compensation for the property.24 Seven years into the program, by 1999, 71,000 black families had been resettled.25 In 2000, Zimbabwean voters rejected a constitutional referendum that would have allowed the government to further implement its fast-track land reform program based primarily on compulsory land acquisitions. …

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