Pressures from Above_ Below and Both Directions by maqboolshahin


									Pressures from Above, Below and Both Directions: The Politics of Land Reform in South Africa, Brazil and Zimbabwe

By Fodei Joseph Batty1 Western Michigan University Kalamazoo, MI 49008

Paper prepared for presentation at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, New Orleans, Louisiana, January 2005


I am grateful to Dr. Jim Butterfield for his comments and suggestions. All errors are mine.

ABSTRACT: The article examined sources of demands for land reforms and their conduct in Brazil, South Africa and Zimbabwe as respective examples of pressures for such reforms set into motion by forces from below, above and both directions. Differences in the political structures, choices of strategy and the coalitions formed around the reform processes in all three countries are predictive of the various outcomes. While the land reform process in South Africa is found to be less contentiousness than the other two, it is arguably less redistributive. Several arguments are made. The twin outcomes of redistribution and less-contentiousness are hardly, simultaneously attainable and a balance needs to be struck between them but understanding how this balance is struck entails an appreciation of the directional force pushing for land reforms. If the only goal is redistribution, undemocratic governments can do an equally good job of land reforms as democratic governments because the former oftentimes does not respect the rule of law and, as such, does not hesitate to wrest property away from landowners, which effective land reforms might sometimes require.


Can a land reform program be both highly redistributive and not contentious? What type of government is more likely to be concerned with redistribution, low levels of contention, or simultaneously with both goals? Do different sources of pressure and their attendant coalitions for land reforms result in similar outcomes? In an effort to answer these and other related questions about land reforms, this article looks at three case studies of such reforms in Brazil, South Africa and Zimbabwe where the demands and pressures for land reforms have been spearheaded by divergent sources from below, above and both directions.3


Adapted from the National Land Committee’s website at which carries the picture of a man with a banner bearing the words “How Can Poor People Buy Their Own Land Back”? Accessed 06/29/04. 3 By pressures from below, I use the term like Langevin and Rosset used it with reference to the Brazilian landless movement, to refer to successful grassroots movements that have resulted in acquisition of lands by poor, otherwise powerless people. Pressures from above refer to calls for land reform and their implementation by incumbent governments. While pressure from both directions refers to calls for reform emanating from both the incumbent government and the landless from below. See Mark S. Langevin and Peter Rosset. “Land Reform From Below: The Landless Workers Movement in Brazil. Published on the MST website Accessed 6/18/2004 Accessed 07/01/2004.

In Brazil, pressures for land reforms have primarily emanated from below - from poor, rural, landless workers galvanized by the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra or Landless Workers Movement -MST. The government has remained largely unsupportive of such pressures and comparatively more influenced by rich landowners. In South Africa, beginning after the first multiracial democratic elections of 1994, the African National Congress has pursued land reforms from above as a matter of government policy. While doing so it has not given any preferential treatment to the mostly white landowners and it has also refused to formally incorporate pressures from below from the Landless Peoples’ Movement into any form of coalitional partnership against landowners.4 In contrast to the first two cases; Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front or ZANU-PF have primarily made the push for land reform in Zimbabwe, while the former guerilla fighters of the Zimbabwean independence movement- a major electoral constituency of the ZANU-PF party- have complemented this push from above by invading white-owned farms and forcibly occupying them with the tacit encouragement of the government. All three land reform movements have achieved varied results with repercussions for the implementing countries. What lessons can we draw from their experiences to supplement our understanding of land reforms? Land reforms involve the changing of laws, regulations and customs regarding land ownership and tenure so that those who previously did not have access to land can do so. Understood in this sense, land reform in this article refers to the nationwide, largescale transfer of control over land rights from previous landowners to the landless; from “large private landowners to small peasant farmers and landless agricultural workers” (Griffin, Khan and Ickowitz, 2002).5 Different theorists have argued for the various purposes achieved by land reforms including the following: stimulating economic development as was the case in Taiwan and South Korea (Wade, 1990; Putzel, 2003); increased agricultural production and economic efficiency as is the case with the recent World Bank push for land reforms in

In any case, the Landless Peoples’ Movement is a fairly recent organization having come into being only in 2002. A good seven years after the land reforms started in South Africa. 5 Also See Deininger Klaus. 1999. “Making Negotiated Land Reform Work: Initial Experience from Colombia, Brazil and South Africa” World Development 27(4): 651-672.

countries like the Philippines using Market-Based Voluntary Land Transfer Schemes as macro policy suggestions (Borras, 2005). 6 Or simply as an attempt to dissolve previous power structures for purposes of decolonization as is the case with some African countries emerging out of colonialism like Namibia or Zimbabwe (Thomas, 2003).7 In achieving all these purposes, land reforms are meant to be redistributive by reshaping claims on lands held by landowners with vast holdings or lands in government trust. However, those who argue for Market-Based Voluntary Transfer schemes of land reforms, like the World Bank are advertently or inadvertently ignoring some of the other characteristics of land.8 Land is an important factor of production critical to any process of economic development but sometimes the symbolic benefits of holding it are greater to those who hold them than its economic benefits. Why else would Ethiopia and Eritrea wage a costly war in terms of human and financial costs for a piece of land that most observers have dismissed as a virtual wasteland? In some societies land is held as an instrument of domination with highly cherished claims of ownership stretching back generations in history and fiercely guarded by those who possess them. Voluntarily relinquishing such claims cannot be guaranteed even when historical documentation proves that the manner of acquisition of such lands in the past were through the use of force to expel the original inhabitants. Thus, the transfer of titles of ownership essentially entails institution-changing processes making land reforms slow to implement. Attendant complexities of institutional change make it likely that the process will result in unsatisfactory outcomes for some, if not all of the stakeholders. Hence market-based land reforms based on the economic value of land rather than the social value has set these types of reforms up for failure in developing countries where land is equally used as an instrument to “lord” it over others as it is used as a factor of production.

See Saturnino M. Borras Jr. January 2005. “Can Redistributive Reform be Achieved Via Market-Based Voluntary Land Transfer Schemes? Evidence and Lessons from the Philippines.” In Journal of Development Studies 41(1): 90-134, for a comprehensive description of the implications of market-based land reform programs introduced by the World Bank. 7 Roy L. Prosterman and Tim Hanstad. March 2003. “Land Reform in the 21st Century: New Challenges, New Responses” RDI Reports on Foreign Aid and Development #117. Offers additional discussion of the purposes of land reform programs. 8 The article by Barros summarizes the economic arguments made in favor of land reforms and also raises doubts about the efficacy of the market-based approach to land reforms.


On any given day, most land tenure systems allow for the casual sale and transfer of land ownership between landowners and buyers without any rigor but wholesale macro land reforms, like the one this article is concerned with, are statist projects because they involve arbitration over the transfer of major property rights between the two parties that are involved-landowners to landless. This often makes it difficult for state actors to remain neutral in the process (Herring, 2001). Like most institution-changing processes, land reforms are also highly contentious. Putzel (2000:11) succinctly makes this point: “redistributive land reforms are difficult to implement as they necessitate the transformation of property rights, which are at the institutional core of a state.” Even when they are somewhat successful the results of land reforms can be highly contentious. Since the process involves the taking away of rights and benefits from landowners and the conferring of those rights and benefits to the landless, the outcomes are always unsatisfactory for one group. Landowners may feel they are giving up too much during such transformations while the landless are convinced that too little is being given up too slowly. The reactions of landowners and landless in the three case studies illustrates this point. “Contentious” here refers to a land reform exercise the outcomes of which are highly disputed by either landowners, the landless, or both groups leading to serious tensions of an economic, social or political nature within the country-Zimbabwe is a case in point. Given the high potential for conflict during the implementation of land reforms, an optimal goal will be the undertaking of a land reform program that is least contentious while also achieving high percentages of redistribution in the most expedient way. However, this article will argue that the twin goals of “least contentiousness” and “high redistribution” are not simultaneously attainable. It is wishful thinking for those interested in land reforms to desire both. At best, a balance needs to be struck between the two goals and understanding how this balance works necessitates an appreciation of the coalitional forces that are behind the push for land reforms in the implementing country. The evidence emerging from the three case studies substantiates this point. The next section touches on democratic transition theory from which the argument of looking at different sources of pressures for land reform is borrowed. Section 3 gives brief overviews of some previous land reforms at different times in history so that

their experiences can further illuminate the present case studies and arguments. A discussion of the three illustrative cases of land reforms in Brazil, South Africa and Zimbabwe follows in sections 4, 5 and 6. Finally, section 7 covers the conclusion which, among other points, draws the attention of those interested in land reforms to the point, that autocratic governments may be equally efficient as democratic governments in implementing land reforms if not better, because they are less concerned with ensuring the rule of law and efficient land reforms can involve some wresting away of property rights from citizens using measures that violate the rule of law. That is, if redistribution is the priority.

2. REVOLUTIONARY AND DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION THEORIES FOR EXPLAINING PRESSURES FOR LAND REFORMS Some revolutionary and democratic transition theories (Trimberger, 1972, 1978; Linz and Stepan, 1996; Karl and Schmitter, 1991; etc.) suggest that revolutions and movements for democratic change are set into motion by forces emanating from multiple directions such as above or below. Revolutions from above, or “elite revolutions” as in the Meiji Restoration of 1866 in Japan, result in outcomes that are unique from those set in motion from below or by the masses. The latter source of revolutions is often messier in its outcomes than the former for reasons that I will not indulge to dwell on here. Instead, I look at land reforms in South Africa and Brazil as respective examples of these kinds of pressures. Transition theorists also emphasize alliances and strategic choices made by the actors as instrumental to the outcomes achieved. Karl and Schmitter aptly capture this argument about transitions thus: transitions are “produced” by actors who choose strategies that lead to change from one kind of regime to another…they may be constrained by the choices available to them by prevailing social, economic and political structures and the interaction of strategies may often result in outcomes that no one initially preferred, but nevertheless we believe that actors and strategies define the basic property space within which transitions can occur and the specific combination of the two defines which type of transition has occurred (Karl and Schmitter 1991: 274).

We can assimilate this into our discussion because, as our cases will illustrate, land reforms can be driven by calls from different sections and classes of society. Just like democratization processes - which they sometimes walk in consonance with - land reforms also involve elements of a transitioning of property rights of ownership from one group to another led by state actors, or as in other cases, non-state actors making strategic choices to push for change at an opportune time. The alliances that emerge between the three groups of stakeholders-the state, landowners and landless- during the reform process are not forged in a vacuum but are the direct consequences of the respective political economies and the carefully rationalized choices that each party makes. These “coalitional partnerships” can vary from one between the state and landowners, as is the case with some state governments and landowners during some land reform processes in parts of India (Putzel, 2000), or one between the state and the landless as is the case with Zimbabwe. Sometimes, for obvious reasons, the state can pursue land reform programs without seeing the need to ally with other interested parties. Rarely do the landless practically go it alone to demand land reform and practically implement it by themselves, which makes the Brazilian case even more remarkable. But they sometimes do so when the possibility of forming alliances with other stakeholders is slim or nonexistent as is they did in that case. Choices of strategies of implementation also vary from state-led willing seller to willing buyer reform programs, to that of forcible occupations of “unutilized” land or land considered surplus to the needs of landowners. The collectivization and decollectivization programs in former communist countries like the Soviet Union are also other examples of choice of strategy though rare. Illustrative of pressure from above, the African National Congress government of South Africa has provided the major impetus for land reform in that country since the inception of democratic governance in 1994 (Lahiff, 2003; Zimmerman, 2000; Deininger, 1999; Manji, 2001). In the case of Brazil, since 1985, the major push for land reform has emanated from below by the poor, rural landless farmers galvanized by the umbrella group, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement) or MST as they are popularly called (de Almeida et al., 2000; Plummer and Ranum, 2002; Veltmeyer and Petras, 2002; Meszaros, 2000; Bryant, 1998).

Zimbabwe provides a third example of a different kind of pressure for land reform that has come from both directions. Since 2000, the ZANU-PF led government of Robert Mugabe has made land redistribution a major political agenda that is complemented by pressure from below by former guerrilla fighters of the liberation movement known as the War Veterans’ Association (Thomas, 2003; Waeterloos and Rutherford, 2004; Shaw, 2003;). The land reform programs in all three countries illustrate the outcomes achieved given the different political coalitions formed behind the reform programs. All three countries have historical and political process that resulted in current inequalities in land distribution necessitating some type of land reform. Briefly tracing the history of these inequalities in land distribution and discussing the paths, challenges, setbacks and successes of current land reform programs will further substantiate the argument that it is very difficult to have a land reform program that simultaneously achieves the optimal goals of effective redistribution and least-contentiousness previously referred to. Furthermore, the implementing conduct of the reforms by state actors, and the coalitions formed around the process are also instrumental in explaining the outcomes of land reform programs that are either less contentious but slow in redistribution like the process in South Africa, or fast-paced and arguably more redistributive but highly contentious like the process in Zimbabwe.


The reformulation of land rights has been at the center of most of the major political struggles in history since the French Revolution. The struggles against colonialism in African, Asia and Latin American countries also had “reclaiming of the land” locked firmly in their motivations. More recently, the implementations of land reform programs have become a part of the macro policy suggestion incorporated into the agenda of some of the major international governmental organizations like the World Bank. From the political (e.g. France, China, Mexico, Romania, etc.) to reforms motivated mainly by economic consideration or both (e.g. Taiwan, South Korean, the

Philippines etc.), the multifarious outcomes of these reforms can be measured on practical and utilitarian terms and help to inform our argument. The sources of demands for these reforms, the alliances of reformers and their modus operandi are even more useful to our present discussion as we look at the cases of Brazil, South Africa and Zimbabwe. An important consideration raises it curious head at this point demanding clarification and adding a new dimension to our present discussion. Namely should consideration for the historical epoch of different reform programs have any bearing on our discussion? I will say no here and argue that we use these previous cases only as illuminative guides to inform our look at current land reforms. Clearly the political climate of the world has been different at every stage of history. Less than fifty years ago, a universal concern for democracy and human rights was absent or ineffectual and Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reforms in Zimbabwe would have passed without anyone as much as winking an eye or raising a finger in protest. Democratic processes, including the orderly transfer of property rights, were not a major preoccupation. This was the case even as colonial powers like France and Great Britain grabbed lands in every place they settled and forcibly evicted the indigenous peoples. Thus the land reform programs carried out in countries like China, Mexico, Iran, Romania and as far back as the struggles against feudalism in Europe should serve our discussion only so far as they illustrate the directional forces that called for those reforms and their outcomes. Having made that caveat I now move on to talk about some of these land reform programs starting with Taiwan. Wade (1990), Putzel (2000) and others have credited the land reform program carried out by the Kuomintang in the early 1950s as one of the major catalysts that propelled Taiwan towards economic growth. Robert Wade, perhaps the biggest fan of Taiwanese land reforms, argues that the reforms where both economically and politically expedient. Economically expedient because “the economic effect was to make an agricultural sector able to produce a sizable volume of exports and generate linkages with other sectors,” and politically expedient because the reforms served to assimilate “the islander population to the regime…and gave land to people who might have fed a revolt, thereby giving the bulk of rural dwellers a stake in the new regime-all the more important when the Chinese Communist Party was carrying out a

land reform on the mainland, knowledge of which could incite landless Taiwanese cultivators against the Nationalists…”9 The Taiwanese land reforms were arguably instituted from above with the Kuomintang leadership allying itself with the landless against the rich, mostly Japanese previous landowners. The process left a lot to be desired since the landowners did not as much as receive compensation neither did they even have a say in the entire process. However, in terms of redistribution, the reforms were highly redistributive. Wade notes “the more than three hundred thousand hectares that changed hands constitutes one of the biggest (noncommunist) land reforms on record” (p.241). The reforms might have taken place in a different historical era and attempting to pull-off a similar process today might be more challenging but it demonstrates that when the goal is primarily redistributive, the state’s alliance with the landless provided a coalition that served the purpose well albeit without any concern for contention since the landowners had no independent means of disputing the reforms. Historical cases of successful, comprehensive land reforms from below are rarer but several cases can be identified: Mexico during the revolution of 1910 and again during the recent Chiapas land takeovers following the Zapatista uprising of 1994; Guatemala during the “Ten Years of Spring” between 1944-54; China in the 1950s; North Vietnam in the 1950s; Peru in 1968; South Vietnam in the early 1970s; and El Salvador in the 1980s. Most of these reforms have only been implemented following successful revolutions or with the coming to power of left-wing groups, radical parties or other groups sympathetic to the interests of the masses. Reforms from below are primarily interested in redistribution and pay little attention to the appeasement of aggrieved parties. They are highly contentious and carried out in an atmosphere of trying to right past wrongs or addressing what are seen as grievances of the landless stemming out of years of subjugation. In Guatemala for example, the “October Revolutionaries” instituted land reforms after the overthrow of General Jorge Ubico’s dictatorship that has been largely seen as a pro-capitalist regime allied with the rich landowners. Lands formerly held by the General or his friends and


See Robert Wade. 1990. Governing the Market: Economic Theory and the Role of Government in East Asian Industrialization. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press) pp. 76-77 and pp. 241-243.

supporters were appropriated by the revolutionaries and redistributed to some of the poor landless masses. In the cases of China in the 1950s and North Vietnam around that same time, Putzel (2000:2-3) argues that the reforms played a central role in ensuring communist victories and for the case of China also “an important part in why that country achieved vastly superior performance in the reduction of poverty than did India the country to which it can be most meaningfully compared.” All the historical cases of land reform programs mentioned here arguably resulted in varying amounts of redistribution. From highly successful cases like Taiwan, to less successful efforts like in Guatemala. They also seemed to have done poorly on addressing the contentiousness of the process. There are no documented efforts to pacify those landowners who lost their lands to state appropriation but the historical era in which these reforms took place probably explains this point. While the era might be different, the reforms are worth paying attention to since they further underscore the redistributive part of the arguments that this article makes.

4. PRESSURE FROM BELOW: THE EMERGENCE OF THE MOVEMENT FOR LAND REFORM IN BRAZIL Brazil is notorious for its high levels of income disparity between the rich, mostly urban classes and their poor, mostly rural counterparts. It is frequently mentioned in the literature on economic development as a country that managed to attain real gains in terms of high economic growth rates, averaging 5.4%, over several decades while making little progress in the translation of those high economic growth rates into relative gains for the poor (Skidmore, 2004; Deininger, 1999; Maddison, 1992; Reynolds, 1996; Bryant, 1998; Sen, 1999). Reynolds (1996:5) mentions “for Brazil, GINI coefficients for various points in time between 1959 and 1985 all lie in the range of 0.5-0.6, with no perceptible trend. Today the ratio of average income in the top decile to that in the two lowest deciles remains at 20.0 in Brazil and 25.5 in Mexico. This compares with ratios of 3.5 times in Japan, 9.1 in the United Kingdom, and 10.5 times in Germany.”

Perhaps, nowhere is this uneven distribution of income and resources in Brazil more visible than in the area of land distribution. Several decades of persistent action by the Landless Workers Movement has resulted in some gains in the redistribution of lands but compared with the 88.7% of arable lands that remain idle, these gains are more like chipping off the tip of a huge iceberg. De Almeida, Sanchez and Hallewell (2000:14), describe this uneven distribution of land in Brazil thus: “landownership is concentrated in the extreme: 15 percent, 56,287, 168 ha, of the total area of 376, 287, 577 ha is taken up by 0.03 percent of holdings; 0.83 percent account for 38.15 percent of this total, and 9.11 percent account for 78 percent (IGBE, 1985). At the other extreme, 53.07 percent of landholdings occupy only 3 percent of the same total.” In addition, the Landless Workers Movement includes an article by Langevin and Rosset (1997) on their official website which describes what they are up against: According to Brazil’s new Super Ministry of Land Policy, created immediately after the Eldorado dos Carajas massacre, small family farmers with 10 hectares of land or less comprise 30.4 percent of all Brazilian farmers, but together hold only 1.5 percent of all agricultural land. Since 1985 the number of small farms has sharply decreased from just over 3 million to under 1 million. In contrast the country’s largest farms, of 1,000 hectares or more, comprise only 1.6 percent of all farms, but hold 53.2 percent of all agricultural land. The largest 75 farms, with 100,000 hectares or more, control over five times the combined total area of all small farms.10 The root causes of the uneven distribution of land can be traced to Brazil’s colonial heritage. The Portuguese, who started to inhabit the country in the 15th century, reinforced patterns of patrimonial and personalistic societal organization that put a premium on familial relationships and personal friendships over work-related credentials and merit. The results included the creation and strengthening of the powers of a Brazilian elite and helped to maintain nonentities in a deferential and obedient state. Furthermore, the pattern of colonial domination helped to concentrate land in the hands of this manufactured class of elites who helped the Portuguese in their everyday administration of the colony (Skidmore, 1999, 2004). The pattern of landownership created during the colonial period continued into the twentieth century. Landless families trying to eke out a living temporarily worked for
10 Accessed 6/18/2004.

miserable wages on the lands of the rich landlords as hired hands, casual laborers and so forth. Meanwhile, the rich landlords continued to practically waste the vast lands under their control by leaving them idle or using them for ‘ranching, writing off their taxes or for the production of crops exclusively meant for profits while millions continued to starve in the country’ (Information obtained from the MST homepage). Giving them their due, successive Brazilian governments, over the years, had tried to correct the situation but these were mostly half-hearted measures carried out with the utmost care not to upset the rich landlords.11 For example the MST notes on their website that “the INCRA (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform), the federal government agency in charge of land distribution, has pursued a policy of settling landless families in distant frontier lands, usually distant from markets, in infertile, malaria-infested land.”12 Such was the lot of the vast population of landless, rural people in Brazil until 1984 when some of their members decided they were going to do something about their plight. The nucleus of a national movement to address the burning land question in the country began to take shape with encouragement received from the Catholic Church, which was very influential in the country. De Almeida et al (2000:14), credit the formation of the MST to an even earlier period. According to them, the landless movement was a culmination of at least three important processes. The first of these was the strongly conservative capitalist modernization that dominated Brazilian agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s, which they argue accounted for the intensifying conflicts over land, particularly in the state of Sao Paulo and in Southern Brazil. The second is the pastoral action of Christians aligned with the liberation theology and its convergence, in the Brazilian situation with the ideas of the Marxist left. ‘The MST’s origin is also closely tied to the “new unionism” of the urban social movements of the Comunidades Eclesiais


See Klaus Deininger. 1999. “Making Negotiated Land Reform Work: Initial Experience From Colombia, Brazil and South Africa.” World Development. 27(4): 651-72. For a discussion of this mostly market-based reforms carried out under World Bank instigation. The reforms were ineffective because they were based on a willing seller to willing buyer approach and there are hardly any “willing sellers” of choice land in Brazil. Even where they exist, the loans that were supposed to be made available to “willing buyers”-supposed to mean poor, landless Brazilians- ended up in the hands of rich, connected Brazilians, some of them landowners. 12 The INCRA’s effort in this regard, is an example of the negative outcomes of market-based reforms advocated by Deininger and others from the “World Bank school of thought” on land reforms.

de Base (basic church communities-CEBS).’ The third reason for the rise of the MST they credit to the experience in organizing that rural workers had built up in the decades before the military takeover of 1964. The MST has come a long way since their formation. As a movement that began at the grassroots, it is now far organized and better coordinated than most social movements formed around the world for advocating similar interests. The MST currently operates in 23 states in Brazil with a membership or sympathetic following numbering millions that stretch from the countryside to the cities. Achieving these goals has not been easy. The organization has had to fight for every concession from the government and rich landowners sometimes paying for this with the lives of their membership. As a grassroots movement that does not have any enforcement institution serving its interests, the MST resorted to putting their pressures for land reform into effect by pursuing a strategy of forced occupations of idle farmlands whether they belonged to the government or to rich land owners. The first such occupation was carried out in 1979 when the organization was not even on record as an official movement speaking for the poor and landless. To date the MST has organized thousands of landless peasants, small tenant farmers into pressuring the government for a national land reform by staging mass protests, blockades and calling for strikes around the country. The dramatic occupations of lands by the movement’s members have often resulted in violent clashes with police and deaths. Before a national march into Brasilia on April 17, 1997 that gained the movement national and worldwide attention and broad sympathy from the urban middle classes; government forces and hired hands of the rich landowners had not hesitated to use maximum force including assassinations and beatings to enforce evictions from occupied lands. In the infamous Eldorado Dos Carajas massacres of 1996, nineteen movement members were killed as they blocked a major highway to bring attention to their plight.13 After the march on the capital, the government became a lot more hesitant to perpetrate violence against them because the movement had gained political capital in the

Other massacres have taken place throughout the course of the MST’s quest for land reform albeit on smaller scales. In 1995 a similar massacre to the one at Eldorado Dos Carajas took place in Curumbiara in Rondonia state. As recently as November 21, 2004, five workers belonging to the MST were killed and 14 injured in the province of Minas Gerais. What some call the most violent incident over land reform since President Lula came to power nearly two years ago.

form of support from the large urban classes and the international community. University students, lawyers and other educated elites officially joined the movement’s ranks and became card-carrying members even though the movement was not articulating their concerns. As a pressure for reform from below, the landless movement in Brazil had scored impressive victories and was on it way to occupying more lands for its membership. In 1994, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a world renowned sociologist and then Brazilian minister of the economy incorporated the movement’s goals of comprehensive land reform and redistribution into his campaign manifesto for president promising to redistribute land to about 280,000 families over four years. On winning the presidency however, Cardoso reneged on his promises and only carried out modest reforms as he concentrated on pursuing other policies of a neo-liberalist bent. This turnaround made him cut even the budgets of the Land Ministry and INCRA in the name of fighting inflation. Throughout his administration, Cardoso ignored the proposals of the Landless Movement to democratize all landed property in Brazil and speedily redistribute them to the five million or so landless families. Despite setbacks like these and the violence that is sometimes perpetrated against its members, the MST leadership is satisfied with the progress the movement has made so far. Since their inception, the movement has diversified from seeking land reform as a singular goal to that of a full-scale national movement that is concerned with pursuing educational programs such as adult literacy for its members, attention to women and gender empowerment issues, healthcare, the environment, youth and cultural issues, the publication of a major national newspaper, the hosting of a very informative website (that helped my research efforts) etc. In terms of gains in land occupations and the number of hectares acquired for families, the following table provides a breakdown of those totals within a six-year period.

Table 1: MST Land Occupations 1990-1996
YEAR 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 Totals OCCUPATIONS 43 51 49 54 52 93 176 518 FAMILIES 11, 484 9,862 18,885 17,587 16,860 31,531 45,218 151,427 21,021,879* HECTARES OF LAND --7,037,722 5,692,211 3,221,252 1,819,963 3,250, 731

* This total does not include data for 1990 and 1996. Source: http:

The figures from the table show that as the movement gained popularity, strength and numbers, it number of land occupations steadily increased and so also was the number of families it was able to resettle on those lands. However, the number of hectares of land declined as landowners mounted aggressive resistance using private armed guards and sometimes, government forces to protect their holdings. The Brazilian case illustrates that pressure for land reforms from below result in highly contentious outcomes, seen by the incidences of violence against landless occupiers of lands, even though some redistribution might be achieved. In this particular case, the reform movement was resisted by the landowning class who perceived the actions of the landless as some effort to confiscate their lands and used their political power to ally with the government to block them. Rich, powerful landowners hired gun hands to assassinate Movement members during occupations without much repercussion from the law. In 1985, the transition from military dictatorship to civilian democracy under President Jose Sarney brought some promise for a national land reform. The period had also coincided with the formal launching of the MST and the government announced plans to implement a National Land Reform Plan but rich landowners organized to scuttle the program as they have tried to do with successive efforts at implementing land reforms

in Brazil. The Movement had to overcome all these obstacles to make a meaningful contribution to resolving the country’s land crisis. An argument can be made that it has.

5. PRESSURE FROM ABOVE: LAND REFORM IN SOUTH AFRICA UNDER THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS The present inequalities in land ownership in South Africa were instituted over a century ago when the former National Government of South Africa formally started to appropriate black lands to white farmers using a series of segregative laws. The practice of land appropriation continued under successive white minority governments until the ushering in of democracy in the first multiracial elections in 1994 bringing the African National Congress to power. The colonization of South Africa had commenced with the arrival of the first Dutch settlers in 1652 after the Dutch East India Company established its first trading post in Cape Town. The establishment rapidly increased in size and population as more and more settlers arrived and trade flourished. Soon after, the Dutch traders started to engage in the slave trade. The first of successive racially discriminatory laws were passed around 1760 requiring blacks, who previously had the same rights as whites, to carry passes allowing them to move around the settlements. By this time, influential Dutch officials and other businessmen had managed to purchase most of the agriculturally viable land and relied on the labor of slaves and native peoples to produce the crops (Smith, 2001:1). In 1806, the British arrived and seized the Cape of Good Hope area forcing many of the Dutch settlers or Boers, as they were called, to migrate north in search of new territories. A series of confrontations followed between the British and Dutch settlers culminating in the defeat of the latter during the Boer Wars of 1899-1902 and the commencement of British imperialism. Less than five years after gaining control of the territory, the British colonial government created a land commission and set aside a number of reserves for the Zulu. This move served to open the rest of the country to white settlers and so began the inequalities in land distribution in that country (Smith, 2001).

After South Africa declared partial independence from Britain in 1910, the stage was set for the enactment of the major racial policies that formally institutionalized control of the land in favor of white settlers. The first such policy was the National Land Act of 1913, which prohibited blacks from acquiring non-agricultural land. This effectively excluded blacks from purchasing or leasing 22 million acres or 93 percent of the land in South Africa. The Natives Urban Land Act of 1923 followed next prohibiting blacks from residing in urban areas. On gaining complete independence from Britain in 1932, the Native Trust Land Act of 1936 was enacted further limiting the rights of blacks to reside in white areas. In 1948, the government passed into law the official policy of Apartheid legalizing the separation of the races in every aspect of South African life.14 The outcome of all the segregative land laws was that at the ushering in of black majority rule in 1994, 87% of the land was either held by white farmers or the state and the remaining 13% was held by the entire black population. Smith (2001:2) aptly captures what ensued thus: The era’s politics resulted in the separation of blacks from whites. In addition, the Acts reduced blacks to tenants and wage laborers for white farmers. Meanwhile, socio-economic conditions separated Afrikaners from wealthy whites. The Acts resulted in seventy-five percent of the population sharing 11.7 percent of the country’s land. The remaining eighty-seven percent of the land, encompassing the most productive land, was divided among the white population, which constituted only 8 percent of the population. The Apartheid era formally ended in 1993 with a series of dramatic events. Starting with the repealing of racially divisive laws enacted during that era, a law was passed in the South African parliament titled “Abolition of the Racially Based Land Measures Act,” which formally repealed the 1913, and 1936 Land Acts. Nelson Mandela, who had come to epitomize the black struggle for racial equality, was released from 27 years of detention and the first multiracial elections were held in 1994, which the African National Congress, led by Mandela won with a landslide.


These acts were also referred to by various other titles. For examples, the National Land Act of 1913 was also referred to as the Native Land Act; the Native Trust Land Act was also referred to as the Development Trust and Land Act. In addition to these numerous other smaller land acts, like the Group Areas of Act of 1950, were passed all aimed at conserving more land in the hands of the minority white population and further segregating the races.

During the struggles against Apartheid, liberating the land had been placed firmly at the forefront of that struggle. Leading up to the elections, addressing the land question was one of the major campaign promises the ANC made to its supporters making it an important part of the manifesto of the movement, which had by then transformed into a political party. In the constitutional talks with the National Party government and other stakeholders of the new South Africa that was being negotiated, the ANC worked hard to ensure that redressing the racial imbalance in land holding was incorporated into the new constitution as government policy. It succeeded in doing so because the new Constitution of the Republic of South Africa sets outs the legal basis for land reform particularly in the Bill of Rights. Lahiff (2003:9) notes “Section 25 of that bill, or the Property Clause allows for the expropriation of property only in terms of ‘a law of general application,’ for a public purpose or in the public interest, subject to just and equitable compensation; section 25(4) states that ‘the public interest includes the nation’s commitment to land reform, and to reforms to bring about equitable access to all South Africa’s natural resources.” Other sub-sections place a clear responsibility on the state to carry out land and related reforms with powers to grant specific rights to victims of past discrimination. Upon assuming office, the ANC turned its attention into fulfilling its promise. Land reform from above was set into motion. Since then, the ANC government has pursued a three-pronged strategy of land reform based on restitution, redistribution and reforms in land tenure. Restitution has involved restoring land ownership or providing compensation to those who were dispossessed of their lands without adequate compensation under such racially discriminatory laws as the Native Land Act of 1913. The mechanism for achieving the policy of restitution have been provincial-based courts of restitution and arbitration and Lands Claims Courts that serve as final arbiters in the process of those who bring claims before it. The land redistribution component of the land reform program seeks to provide disadvantaged, poor and rural people with access to land for productive and residential purposes. Using a market-based approach based on a willing seller to willing buyer, the government has facilitated the provision of grants to poor people to enable them to buy

lands from white landowners willing to sell. Most redistribution to date has taken place through groups of applicants pooling their grants to buy former white-owned farms for commercial and agricultural purposes (Lahiff, 2003). Tenure reform, in contrast to the first two is community specific and is designed to provide security of tenure to all South Africans under diverse forms of locally appropriate tenure. Included in this reform is an initiative that provides legal recognition and the formalization of communal land rights in rural areas. The reform also provides guarantees to ensure that recent acquisitions by blacks and poor people of former whiteowned lands and other lands previously held by the government were not reversed. Tenure reform recognizes the variations in different landholding systems in different ethnic areas of the country that were assimilated during the period of Apartheid rule.15 So, what have been the outcomes of the land reforms initiated in South Africa from above? Short of describing it as an outright failure, various experts on the issue are almost unanimous in their opinion that the ANC-led reforms from above have not done much to reduce the inequalities in land distribution. Justice Moloto, who has been appointed to the Land Claims Court since 1995, describes the outcomes of the reform as mixed but was thankful that cases of violent mutual attacks between whites and blacks over the reform programs were rare (Moloto, 2001:17). Wellington Thwala of the National Land Committee in Johannesburg has this to say about the outcomes of the reforms so far: As of the end of 2001, less than 2% of land has changed hands from white black through the land reform programme and long-awaited legislation to improve the tenure security of people in the former Bantustans in terms of the state’s Section 25(6) obligations had yet to be released. Of the 68,878 land restitution claims received, only 12,678 had been settled, benefiting less than 40,000 predominantly urban households, more than 40% of which received monetary compensation instead of land restoration. While monetary compensation is one form of redress, it is not land reform because it does not involve the transfer of land rights. The urban bias of restitution delivery also means this programme has so far done little to transform rural property relations


To complement the various programs of restitution, redistribution, and tenure reform described here, the ANC government has, over the years, signed other pieces of registration on land reform like The Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996, the Communal Property Association Act 28 of 1996, the Extension of Security of Tenure Act 62 of 1997, The Prevention of Illegal Eviction From and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998 all geared towards strengthening the ongoing land reform program.

with most rural restitution claims still outstanding. (p. 14)16

However, the failure is not for a lack of effort on the part of the ANC and most observers have not faulted them entirely for what has been the outcome of the land reform programs. Rather, blame has been put on administrative bottlenecks that have bogged the process down in detail. What Lahiff (2003, p.51) describes as “complex governmental structures” that makes coordination of the activities of the different institutions of government dealing with the issue difficult at best. The official government agency in charge of the land reform process, the Department of Land Affairs, cites both successes and challenges of the reform exercise. The challenges include: (1) late lodgment claims; (2) difficult rural claims; (3) exorbitant land prices and uncooperative white farmers; and (4) protracted negotiations, disputes and mediations (Department of Land Affairs, Government of South Africa).17 Late lodgment claims have occurred because many poor, landless South Africans had initial doubts about the implementation of the land reform measures after independence. This is in spite of nationwide “stake your claim” publicity campaigns by the Department calling for the lodgment of land claims. Decades of Apartheid rule had made poor South Africans oblivious to any promises of land reform. The process has also been affected by difficult rural claims due to illiterate claimants who are incapable and unfamiliar with the, sometimes complex, procedure of making documented claims. The lands that needed to be restituted had not been surveyed for so long that hardly anybody knew were boundaries existed demarcating one land from the other. Added to this, most of the lands to be claimed had been appropriated so long ago that the claimants had no legal documents of previous ownership and simply went by “word of mouth” traditional family claims passed down within generations of families. Such claims were difficult to prove at best and take a very long time to verify. Another difficult challenge to the process has come from “uncooperative” white farmers that were charging exorbitant land prices. These farmers even set up a

Wellington Didibhuku Thwala. 2003. “Land and Agrarian Reform in South Africa.” Accessed from the National Land Committee Website. Http:// (P.14) Accessed 11/19/04
17 Accessed 11/19/04.

“Restitution Resistance Fund” to oppose the process, sometimes using intimidation or lobbying to thwart the efforts of claimants to get their lands back. Those who advocate a “willing seller, willing buyer” approach to land reform based on “fair market prices” need to pay special attention this point raised by the DLA. Most white farmers, especially in the Transvaal, were resistant to the idea of land reform and were charging prices for land that were way above fair market prices making the process of buying their lands by the government very expensive. The one claim alone from the Tenbosch area could cost almost R1.2 billion during the reform process. (Department of Land Affairs).18 In addition to all these difficulties and challenges, negotiations and dispute resolutions for land claims are often protracted as every effort is made by the department to investigate, verify and certify every land claim requiring a lot of time to do so. Where it cannot solve particular claims, those are referred to a Land Claim Court that was set up in 1995 to deal with such issues. To date the official number of settled claims, from the three reform programs of restitution, redistribution and tenure reform and the amount of hectares redistributed to the landless, provided by the DLA are given below.

Table 2: Land Claims Settled from 1995 to date
Fin Year 1996/1997 1997/1998 1998/1999 1999/2000 2000/2001 2001/2002 2002/2003 Total Claims 1 6 34 3875 8178 17783 6809 36686 Households 350 2589 569 10100 13777 34860 21416 83661 Beneficiaries 2100 14951 2360 61478 83722 167582 111759 444002 Hectares 2420 31108 79391 150949 19358 144111 89573 516910

Source: Department of Land Affairs, Government of South Africa

The total cost of the land reform exercise detailed above, so far, has been R. 1,897,060,384.52. A huge cost given that only 83,661 households have benefited from

1 South African Rand = 0.172709 United States dollar at market value for 11/19/04.

the exercise, so far, from the one million and more households that need to be provided for. The autonomous National Land Committee, critical of the exercise from the start, describes the restitution process as “painfully slow, overly bureaucratic, and inefficient; the tenure reform program as weak both in implementation and monitoring; and the redistribution program as redistributing less than 2% of South African farmland that needed to be redistributed”19 In the midst of the ANC government’s push for land reforms, grassroots movements like the Landless People’s Movement (operationally fashioning themselves after the MST in Brazil) have sprang up calling for a speedier process and greater redistribution. While the LPM is a grassroots movement, in this case their activities and calls for land reform does not qualify as legitimate pressure from below like the MST’s in Brazil because they are relative late comers to the process having only emerged in 2002 to pressure the ANC government. They have not succeeded in swinging national momentum in their favor their and actions have not resulted in any meaningful hectares of land changing hands. Attempts by the LPM to occupy vacant lands, MST-style, have led to their total evictions from such lands on every occasion. Throughout the land reform process in South Africa, the ANC government has remained neutral, sticking to its market-based policy of willing seller to willing buyer. Even when it could have easily sided with the landless to form a coalition against landowners, the government has not done so. After all, the mostly white rich landowners are symbolic of the former racist Apartheid regimes that they had fought for years while the landless represent the people they have fought for-some even helped them in the struggle. The democratically elected government of the ANC has been more concerned with enforcing the land reform in an orderly process under the rule of law. This, perhaps, has made the process a less contentious one in terms of the level of violence, lives lost and tensions in the country over an otherwise volatile issue of property rights changing hands.

19 Accessed 11/20/04.


Zimbabwe is arguably the most famous of the three cases because recent international news headlines had given it a lot of coverage as one of the most controversial land reform processes in history. Since 2000, the ZANU-PF government of Robert Mugabe began what it referred to as “the second phase” of a land reform program it had started in the 1990s. The second phase involved fast tracking the acquiring of more than 3,000 farms owned by white Zimbabweans for redistribution to blacks. This action was roundly criticized by the United States, the European Union and other major international governmental organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations. But the government justified the measure as necessary to address the colonial legacy of forced appropriations of black lands that left 32% percent of Zimbabwe’s current agricultural land-around 10 million hectares- in the hands of about 4, 400 whites while about a million black peasant families farmed 16 million hectares or about 38% of the land. Like Brazil and South Africa, the root causes of Zimbabwe’s current inequality in land distribution are traceable to its colonial history. What is now present day Zimbabwe formerly formed part of Mashonaland and Matabeleland lodged between Botswana and the Zambezi river until 1888 when the Ndebele king Lobengula was misled by the British explorer Cecil Rhodes into signing a mining ‘concession’ that turned out to be a treaty effectively granting Rhodes the right to occupy Mashonaland. Soon after, the British government was complied into granting a Royal Charter delegating the functions of government in the region to Rhode’s British South Africa (BSA) Company (Douglas, 1984:182-184; Lebert, 2003; Thomas, 2003). In 1895 the area was renamed Rhodesia, after Cecil Rhodes, and soon after was flooded by an influx of settlers from South Africa in search of gold who demanded land and the labor to work it. Conflict soon followed between the white-ruled territory of Mashonaland and the independent black state of Matabeleland in what was referred to as the Anglo-Ndebele War of 1893-94. The Ndebele lost the war and their territory was added to an expanded Rhodesian territory. “The settlers helped themselves to the best land, enserfed the original inhabitants, or else pushed them into less fertile areas. A loose

policy of setting aside reserves for Africans-following the South African policy-began in the 1890s, but became regularized and intensified in the 1920s” (Thomas, 2003; Leibert, 2003; Douglas, 1984). In 1923, the Rhodesian territory declared itself autonomous from the British government followed by a formal declaration of independence several decades later in 1965. Soon after declaring its autonomy from Britain, the white-minority rule government started to implement the series of land laws that expropriated the lands of black indigenes. Thomas (2003:693) described what follows thus: The first such law was the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 that “allocated fixed reserves-generally poor, remote and inadequate- to the people…the alienated lands of Africans became ‘European areas,’ the new government concentrated all its policies during the next 30 years on the promotion of further white settlement, and built up its power and economic predominance. Through immigration the number of white settlers increased from 80,000 to 220,000 between 1945 and 1960. There was ‘wholesale forced removal of African people to make room for white farming up to the 1950s.’ Indeed black people continued to be forced from their land right up to the 1970s… More discriminatory land laws followed separating more Zimbabweans from their lands. At the conclusion of a war of independence leading up to the first major all-race elections in the country in 1980, the British government brokered an agreement between the different factions of the Zimbabwean liberation movement- including Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, the largest and most dominant faction- and the white-minority government at the Lancaster House Agreements. Land was a major issue in the negotiations. But the outgoing white-minority government managed to get key concessions out of the liberation movement that included guarantees that the latter will not engage in compulsory land acquisitions for the next ten years following independence and even if it did that it would “pay promptly adequate compensation” for such property. Land distribution was to take place only in terms of “willing buyer, willing seller” approach. The British provided about 44 million pounds to finance this effort (Human Rights Watch, 2002). The land clause in the Lancaster House agreement expired in 1990 and the ZANU-PF government started making efforts to reenact new laws that will revise the provisions in the constitution regarding property rights. In 1992, they passed the Land

Acquisition Act giving them strengthened powers to acquire land for resettlement. This was still to be subject to the payment of “fair” compensation to landowners. Under the Act, the criteria for identifying land were: land that was derelict, underutilized, owned by a farmer who has other farms, foreign-owned, or contiguous to communal areas. These criteria were largely abandoned in later years (Human Rights Watch, 2002, Leibert, 2003). In 1994 a land tenure commission, the Rukuni Commission, set up by the government made recommendations for the payment of land taxes. The recommendation was intended to compel landowners with huge holdings to shed off some of their excess lands in order to avoid paying taxes on them but it never materialized. By the end of the 1990s, during what is now referred to as the “first phase” of land reform in Zimbabwe, the government had succeeded in resettling 71,000 families against set targets of 162,000 on almost 3.5 million hectares of land. However, the resettled land was mostly marginal or unsuitable for grazing or cultivation and only about 19 percent was considered prime land (Human Rights Watch, 2002, Leibert, 2003). The first phase of the ZANU-PF land reform program resulted in only what some have described as “moderate gains” because more than a million families of black poor Zimbabweans still continued to eke out their living on about 16 million hectares of poor land. The government blamed the British sponsored, market-based approach of willing seller willing buyer of land redistribution arguing that the policy contributed to the bias in getting low quality land from the white landowners for redistribution because they were only willing to give up unusable land that they wanted to dispose of. Furthermore, the government, for the first time, asserted that the British government needed to assume some bigger responsibility for land redistribution in the country because they had a colonial obligation to fulfill stemming from their years of support for the white-minority government of Ian Smith and his predecessors. Towards the end of 1999, the situation began to escalate. The greatest percentage of the choicest land, about 11 million hectares was still in the hands of the 4,400, or so, commercial farmers comprising of the mostly white minority. In addition to the marketbased approach to land distribution used in the first phase, government corruption was also another major reason why the first phase failed. Farmlands that had been purchased

for redistribution, using the money Britain had provided, mostly ended in the hands of government operatives, ZANU-PF party stalwarts, and other cronies of the government (Human Rights Watch, 2000; British Broadcasting Corporation news service). Ordinary Zimbabweans continued to suffer without the land they had been promised at independence and their patience began to run out. Human Rights Watch reports that the first grassroots occupations of land were already taking place by the late 1980s and early 1990s creating a new pressure for land reform from below to complement the government’s efforts. Towards 1997 and 1998, the new source of pressure from below intensified with larger scale occupations. The “squatters” were emboldened by the fact that the government did nothing significant to halt their actions. Led by veterans of the liberation struggle who had formed an umbrella group in 1989 called the War Veterans’ Association, the squatters pressured the government into granting them more and more concessions for their service to the country until they became de-facto political coalition partners of ZANU-PF. To compound the land issue, or perhaps a direct cause of it, Zimbabwe continued to sink into economic decline as the government made efforts to service its foreign debt incurred during the early years after independence. Debt servicing was at a rate of about 37 percent of export earnings by 1987. At the same time, the government was also implementing an Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) that hiked up interest rates in the country. Add to the mix: the ill-advised sending of troops to the Congo to help the beleaguered Kabila regime fight off rebels, two major droughts during the nineties leading to drops in crop production-all further reduced gross domestic product. By 2000, the government of Robert Mugabe was in a serious crisis hemmed in on all sides by a growing economic problems, political challenge from the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change that had the backing of the mostly-white, rich, Commercial Farmers Union, and most importantly, aggressive calls from the war veterans and other landless peoples for land redistribution. To appease those he saw as the most important challenge to his survival, it is argued that the Mugabe government reintroduced calls it had made back in 1997 for the compulsory acquisition of 1, 471 farms (about 3.9 million hectares) and, this time, added about 1,529 hectares more to that number to make it a total of 3,000 hectares of farmland earmarked for redistribution

under what it called a “fast track” land reform program. This was a politically expedient move for him because it provided a way for him to harass the CFU, major backers of the opposition MDC, while also appeasing the landless and war veterans who had become important coalition partners (Leibert, 2003). Throughout the time leading up to the announcement of the “fast track” land reform program, the war veterans movement and other squatters continued to forcefully occupy white farmlands and the announcement by the government provided momentum for their activities. By 2001, a final total of 2, 706 farms were listed in an official government publication for compulsory acquisition. Other listings followed the first announcement with more and more farms added to the number so that by January 2002, up to 4,874 farms had been listed for acquisition amounting to about 9.23 million hectares of land. The government justified its intended acquisitions as necessary to meet the goal of acquiring 8.3 million hectares from the large-scale commercial sector for redistribution. With their pressure from below, the war veterans and other squatters had also succeeded in forcefully occupying about 1, 948 farms and their numbers had increased from an estimated 25,000 in 2000 to about 104, 000. The Commercial Farmers’ Union representing the landowners resorted to attempted negotiations with the Zimbabwean government and legal challenges in the courts to resist the appropriation of their lands, but both measures were largely unsuccessful. Even where the courts ruled in their favor by occasionally striking down the manner of the land acquisitions and occupations as illegal, the government simply ignored the verdict and continued with its acquisitions. In 2001 the Zimbabwean Supreme Court overturned an earlier verdict it had given calling the land acquisitions and occupations illegal by saying that the government had now set up a legal land reform program retroactively making past illegal occupations legal. More forceful occupations, since then, have led to confrontations between the white farmers and the squatters and war veterans resulting in at least 7 deaths of white farmers and an even greater number of deaths among their black workers living with them on their farms (Human Rights Watch, 2002; British Broadcasting Corporation, 2000). The land reform program in Zimbabwe has been very contentious, perhaps the most contentious of the three, arguably due to the actions and preferences of the

implementing government and the coalitional forces that have propelled the reform program. The war veterans’ movement and other landless Zimbabweans have complemented the government’s pressure from above leaving the financially powerful, but rather hapless, landowners squeezed in the middle. Unlike neighboring South Africa, the efforts of the landowners in Zimbabwe to resist the reform program by challenging it in the courts and sometimes refusing to leave their farms in the face of harassment have had no effect and only resulted in more violent confrontations between them and the belligerent former guerilla fighters and the landless. Some have given up and accepted a voluntary repatriation program to Britain initiated by the British Government. Others have since sold off their holdings and immigrated to other surrounding African countries like Mozambique. Still, others have stuck it out stubbornly refusing to leave the lands they claim belong to them too as Zimbabweans. This has further increased the potential for conflict so that even though redistribution has taken place under the Zimbabwean land reform program, this fact has been masked by the contentiousness of the program.


So what does this discussion tell us about land reform programs? As the three cases show, the outcomes of land reforms are the consequences of the sources of pressure for those reforms and the nature of the implementing government. In South Africa where the pressure for land reform is from above; and from a democratically elected government, the focus has been on implementing a reform program guided by the rule of law. At every stage of that process, the Department of Land Affairs of the South African government has adhered to constitutional principles in the implementation of all three aspects of the land reform program. In Zimbabwe, on the other hand, where the pressure for land reform has come from a government that has long since been declared illegitimate, because of the way ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe manipulated the constitution to remain in power, the land reform process has not paid much attention to ensuring that the rule of law prevails and there is an orderly transfer of lands. Instead, the government has ignored constitutional

processes and forced the compulsory acquisitions of commercial farms. This neglect for the rule of law has been complemented from below by the actions of the War Veteran’s Movement and the landless that have terrorized some white farmers and occupied their farms. Similarly, in Brazil where the pressure for land reform is from below, the process has been an equally disorderly and contentious one. President Lula’s election to the presidency in 2003 changed that a little because, as a former trade unionist, he is sympathetic to the plight of the landless and the MST. Calling for parliamentary action, Lula has proceeded to reassure both the landless and the landowners of a negotiated settlement to the process of land reform and has made visible efforts to guarantee the protection of landless squatters from police brutality. Before his election, the land reform process was highly contentious as powerful landowners made every effort to get successive Brazilian government to act to stop landless people from occupying more lands. Landowners sometimes even resorted to secret assassinations of key figures in the leadership of the MST. With regard to contentiousness, the land reform process in South Africa is arguably the least contentious of the three. Even though there have been occasional incidences of violence and forced evictions of landless squatters from public lands, these have not equaled the scale of violence that has accompanied the processes in Zimbabwe and Brazil. In terms of redistribution, the three cases tell a whole different story. Differences in land areas, populations and different times of commencement of land reform efforts make an outright comparison of the outcomes of the three reform programs incomparable in terms of hectares redistributed and families resettled etc. But just looking at the three reforms in absolute terms shows that the South African land reform program has been arguably the least distributive of the three. For an eight-year period, the Department of Land Affairs in South Africa documents that only 51, 691 hectares have been redistributed to a total of 83, 661 households. In the case of Brazil, for a six years period of action that the MST provides data for, the movement had succeeded in acquiring over 21 million hectares of land for redistribution to 151, 427 families of its membership. This

figure compares favorably also to the 3.5 million hectares that the Zimbabwean government had forcefully acquired from landowners in the country. Brazil is demonstrably larger in size and land area than South Africa and so is South Africa than Zimbabwe, but when experts of land reforms on South Africa mention that only 2% of total land that is supposed to be redistributed in the country has in fact been redistributed since land reforms commenced in 1995, you know that much has not been done. In contrast, members of the MST have documented their satisfaction at the outcome of their efforts so far. There is room for improvement, but the MST is encouraged by the land it has been able to get for its members where they had none in the past. As a movement from below, the mass following they have generated in Brazil and across the world further encourages them to keep trying. Given that the two undemocratic processes of land reforms- Brazil and Zimbabwe-are arguably more redistributive than the democratic process in place in South Africa; while the latter is arguably less contentious than the first two, what should be the preferable outcome for those interested in land reforms? Answering this question might depend on various ideological dispositions. If the goal is to see a less contentious process guided by neo-liberal market reform policies, then a democratic government that is mindful of the rule of law is the ideal structure for implementing land reforms from willing sellers to willing buyers as is the case in South Africa. The neutrality of the government between landowners and landless is virtually guaranteed and the process is an orderly one but painfully slow and almost a mockery of redistribution. On the other hand, if the goal is to see a highly redistributive land reform program, then undemocratic governments, like the one in Zimbabwe, are convenient weapons of choice. Historical examples of land reforms in Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, Guatemala etc. have all come in the wake of successful revolutions or during governmental systems that cared less about the rule of law. This quality allowed them to wrest some lands away from landholders and redistribute them to the landless. The points about the transfer of property rights and institution-changing process are again relevant to the discussion here. Given that land reforms entail the transfer of property rights and the changing of titles of ownership, they are difficult to implement and a softly-softly approach might not work because landowners are at best reluctant to give up those rights.

What might be needed in such cases is an autocratic policy to enforce land reforms. The historical record bears this point out. It is for this reason that neo-liberal market-based land reform policies will continue to fail because the economic value of land is sometimes inferior to the social structures of ownership prevailing in the political economy of the implementing country. Along the way, we can take a look at the argument made for a “reciprocal relationship between agrarian reform and democratic development” (Herring 1991:11). Prosterman and Handstad (2003:5) have made a similar point that: land reform, when it is implemented effectively, removes its beneficiaries from the “power domain” of the landlord, plantation owner, local cadre, or collective-farm manager. Further, as land-reform beneficiaries increase their incomes and become more economically secure and confident, their ability to participate in the political process….” The argument is an extension of an earlier one made by Barrington Moore Jr. about the ‘importance of breaking landed aristocracies for democratic development.’ Of our three case studies, the Brazil case lends some support to this argument because movement mobilization by the MST for land reform led them to demand other benefits from their government that poor, landless people had not demanded before. This broke some of the control that rich landowners had over them in the past. In the case of South Africa, the arrival of a democratic government is supposed to facilitate land reform according to this argument, but while the ANC has made efforts to implement land reform; those efforts have been comparably limited by their respect for the rule of law in the process. Even as they look at their neighbor Zimbabwe, distribute more land to its people. On the other hand, as Zimbabwe has slid from democracy towards dictatorship, the government of Robert Mugabe has found more and more freedoms to grab lands from unwilling landowners because it no longer has to show much respect for the rule of law. This is an important observation. In the absence of any international treaties specifically guiding the conduct of land reform, the process is going to remain open to implementing governments that might prefer to be more redistributive while remaining contentious or vice versa.


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