The Right to Agricultural Land in Zimbabwe: A Comprehensive Overview of Section 72


The right to agricultural land in Zimbabwe is a complex and multifaceted issue that lies at the intersection of law, politics, history, and socioeconomic development.

It is a topic that has garnered significant attention, both domestically and internationally, due to its far-reaching implications for the nation’s agrarian economy, food security, and the overall well-being of its people.

In this comprehensive overview, we will delve into the legal framework, historical context, land reform program, and the ongoing debates surrounding this pivotal issue of agricultural land rights.

Definition of Agricultural Land

Before exploring the intricacies and nuances of the right to agricultural land in Zimbabwe, it is essential to define what constitutes agricultural land according to the nation’s legal framework.

Section 72 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, the supreme law in the land, provides a clear definition, stating that “agricultural land” refers to land used or suitable for agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, forestry, aquaculture, or any purpose related to livestock farming, game ranching, poultry farming, or apiculture.

Notably, this definition excludes Communal Land, urban local authority areas, and townships established under land survey or town and country planning laws.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Law

The right to own property, including agricultural land, finds its roots in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a seminal document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

Article 17 of the UDHR states that “everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others,” and that “no one shall be arbitriously deprived of his property.”

This fundamental principle serves as the bedrock for the protection of private property rights, including those pertaining to agricultural land, and has been reinforced by various other international legal instruments.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights are among the key treaties that underscore the protection of private property rights and prohibit arbitrary deprivation of property without due process and compensation.

However, it is crucial to note that international law also recognizes the sovereign right of states to expropriate property for public purposes, subject to certain conditions, such as non-discrimination, due process, and the payment of prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.

The Zimbabwean Constitution and Legislative Framework

Turning to the domestic legal framework, Section 72 of the Zimbabwean Constitution addresses the rights to agricultural land in detail.

This section outlines the circumstances under which the state may compulsorily acquire agricultural land for public purposes, such as settlement, land reorganization, forestry, environmental conservation, or the relocation of displaced persons.

While the constitution provides for compulsory acquisition, it also imposes limitations on compensation.

Subsection 3(a) stipulates that no compensation is payable for the acquisition of agricultural land, except for improvements made prior to the acquisition.

Furthermore, subsection 3(b) prohibits court challenges regarding compensation, except for improvements made before the acquisition.

Complementing the constitutional provisions, various Acts of Parliament govern aspects of land ownership and registration.

One such act is the Deeds Registry Act [Chapter 20:05], which facilitates the private registration of land, including agricultural land.

This act ensures the protection of property rights by establishing a comprehensive system for the transfer and registration of immovable property.

Historical Context: Colonial Dispossession and Armed Struggle

To fully comprehend the complexities surrounding the right to agricultural land in Zimbabwe, it is essential to examine the historical context that has shaped this issue.

Subsection 7 of Section 72 of the constitution acknowledges the historical injustices of colonial domination, where the people of Zimbabwe were unjustifiably dispossessed of their land and other resources without compensation.

The colonial powers, appropriated vast tracts of land for settlers, leaving the indigenous population with limited access to productive agricultural land.

This dispossession not only undermined the economic livelihood of the people but also had profound cultural and social implications, as land ownership held deep significance in traditional African societies.

In response to this injustice, the people of Zimbabwe ultimately took up arms in a protracted liberation struggle to regain their land and political sovereignty.

This armed conflict, which lasted from the 1960s until the late 1970s, culminated in the nation’s independence in 1980, ushering in a new era of hope and aspirations for land redistribution.

The Land Reform Program

The land reform program, initiated in the aftermath of independence, aimed to address the historical imbalances in land ownership and enable the people of Zimbabwe to reassert their rights and regain ownership of their land.

Subsection 7 of Section 72 explicitly states that “the people of Zimbabwe must be enabled to re-assert their rights and regain ownership of their land.”

The program sought to redistribute land from the minority commercial farmers to the majority population, who had been marginalized and displaced during the colonial era.

However, the implementation of the land reform program has been a source of significant controversy and ongoing debate, both domestically and internationally.

Critics argue that the compulsory acquisition of agricultural land without adequate compensation violates international legal norms, undermines investment confidence, and has contributed to a decline in agricultural productivity.

On the other hand, proponents contend that the land reform program is a necessary corrective measure to redress the legacy of colonial dispossession and promote equitable access to land resources, which is vital for socioeconomic development and food security.

The Clash of Law and Politics

The right to agricultural land in Zimbabwe has been shaped by a complex interplay of legal principles, historical grievances, and political imperatives, resulting in a clash between law and politics.

While the constitutional provisions and land reform program aim to address historical injustices and empower the people, they have also raised concerns regarding the protection of private property rights and adherence to the rule of law.

On one side of the debate, critics argue that the compulsory acquisition of agricultural land without adequate compensation violates fundamental property rights enshrined in international and domestic legal frameworks.

They contend that such actions undermine the principles of due process, non-discrimination, and the sanctity of private property, potentially deterring foreign investment and hampering economic development.

On the other hand, proponents of the land reform program assert that the redistribution of land is a legitimate and necessary step towards redressing the historical injustices inflicted upon the indigenous population during the colonial era.

They argue that the right to own and access productive agricultural land is intrinsically linked to the socioeconomic well-being and cultural identity of the Zimbabwean people, and that the land reform program is a means to restore this fundamental right.

This clash between legal and political considerations has fueled ongoing debates, legal challenges, and international scrutiny, as stakeholders seek to strike a balance between the legitimate aspirations of the Zimbabwean people and the protection of fundamental rights enshrined in national and international legal frameworks.

The Role of the Former Colonial Power

Subsection 7 of Section 72 of the Zimbabwean Constitution introduces an intriguing element to the discourse on the right to agricultural land.

It explicitly states that “the former colonial power has an obligation to pay compensation for agricultural land compulsorily acquired for resettlement, through an adequate fund established for the purpose.”

Furthermore, if the former colonial power fails to fulfill this obligation, “the Government of Zimbabwe has no obligation to pay compensation for agricultural land compulsorily acquired for resettlement.”

This provision highlights the intricate relationship between the land reform program and the legacy of colonial rule.

It places the onus on the former colonial power, in this case, the United Kingdom, to provide compensation for the compulsory acquisition of agricultural land for resettlement purposes.

The rationale behind this provision is rooted in the recognition of the historical injustices inflicted upon the people of Zimbabwe during the colonial era and the subsequent armed struggle for independence.

However, the implementation of this provision has been met with challenges and divergent interpretations.

The former colonial power has expressed reservations about its legal and moral obligations, citing the passage of time and the complexities of determining appropriate compensation mechanisms.

This has further exacerbated tensions and fueled debates surrounding the right to agricultural land and the pursuit of restorative justice.

Socioeconomic Implications and Food Security

The right to agricultural land in Zimbabwe extends beyond legal and political considerations; it has profound socioeconomic implications and direct consequences for food security.

Agriculture remains a vital sector of the Zimbabwean economy, contributing significantly to the nation’s gross domestic product and providing employment and livelihoods for a substantial portion of the population.

Access to productive agricultural land is crucial for ensuring food security and promoting sustainable rural development.

The land reform program, while aimed at addressing historical injustices, has also been touted as a means to redistribute land resources more equitably and empower smallholder farmers, who constitute a significant portion of the agricultural workforce.

However, critics argue that the implementation of the land reform program has been marred by irregularities, mismanagement, and a lack of proper support systems for beneficiaries, leading to a decline in agricultural productivity and food insecurity in some regions.

They contend that the compulsory acquisition

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