Posted on April 6, 2020

Land Repossessions Were Disastrous for Zimbabwe. Will South Africa Repeat the Same Mistakes?

Marian L. Tupy, Quillete, April 2, 2020

On March 6th, 2020, the government of Zimbabwe “gazetted new legislation under which former landowners may opt for repossession [of confiscated land] or monetary compensation [for confiscated land]. The new regulations will apply to indigenous farmers [i.e., Zimbabwean nationals] whose farms were appropriated, as well as to those whose land was [originally and supposedly] protected by bilateral treaties.” So reported press in South Africa (a country I shall return to below). For now, let me confess to mixed emotions. First, reports from Zimbabwe ought to be treated with skepticism. The rule of law in that country does not exist. So, whether the government gazettes a reasonable sounding legislation or not may prove to be irrelevant in the long run. Second, I am elated. {snip}

Beginning in 2000, the government of the late Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe abandoned its “right of first-refusal” land acquisition policy. Under that policy, Zimbabwean land holders who wanted to sell their land were first obliged to offer it to the government of Zimbabwe. If the government did not express an interest in buying that privately-held land, land holders were permitted to sell it on the open market. The ostensible goal of the “right of first refusal” policy was to gradually make land holding in Zimbabwe less “European” and more “African.” In practice, the land acquired by the government (and paid for by the British, as stipulated by the Lancaster House agreement in 1980) rarely went to ordinary Africans. More often than not, it was apportioned among Mugabe’s cronies. Refusing to be a party to corruption, the British ceased to pay for Zimbabwean land transfers early in Tony Blair’s premiership. Citing British cessation of payments, Mugabe started to expropriate private land holders without compensation.


The frontal attack on property rights of the country’s European farmers wiped out much of Zimbabwe’s export earnings and sent destructive ripples throughout the rest of the economy. {snip}What followed was the second greatest hyperinflation in history that is estimated to have reached 90 sextillion percent in 2008. The prices doubled every 24.7 hours and the Zimbabwean dollar had to be replaced by the US dollar. Living standards plummeted to levels last seen in the 1950s. The average life expectancy for men fell to 37 years and for women to 34 years. {snip} Unemployment skyrocketed to between 85 percent and 90 percent, and Zimbabwe became a failed country.

Throughout the first decade of this century, a small group of economists and policy analysts, myself included, continued to shine the light on the happenings in Zimbabwe. For our trouble, we were sometimes dismissed as defenders of imperialism and, even, painted as racists. {snip}


Fast forward to August 2018, when I found myself on Fox News to discuss, mirabile dictu, a recent proposal by South Africa’s government to expropriate South Africa’s landholders without compensation. {snip} South Africa’s government was about to embark on a catastrophic repetition of Zimbabwe’s mistakes that must and will result in destroying Africa’s greatest and most sophistical economy, and reduce its 55 million people (though not its governing communist elite) to penury.

{snip} Unbeknownst to me, the current occupant of the Oval Office watched the show and tweeted his endorsement of the interview. Unfortunately, he also embellished the show’s content with his own views on South Africa’s farm murders that, for the record, Tucker Carlson and I did not discuss. Be that as it may, within 12 hours of the interview, I found myself in the middle of a vicious media storm, with outlets on two continents screaming “racism.” {snip} Today, I am happy to take a bit of professional satisfaction in seeing the Zimbabwean land expropriations (officially) reversed. {snip} The matter of South African land expropriations is, remarkably and sadly, upon us. Let the battle commence.