Zimbabwe went through various land reform phases which were a massive failure and South Africa cannot be caught up in the same mess. In 1923, the territory that is now Zimbabwe had a white minority population which made up 3% of the total and yet owned 75% of the prime land. In 1998, 18 years after independence, whites, who made up 1% of the total population owned 50% of arable land in Zimbabwe. This, despite the fact that the liberation struggle had been fought especially for the land. Young black men and women did not die just so the living would be able to walk in any street but still work for the white man. The liberation struggle was an economic revolution more than anything.
Funny enough, Britain and America had pledged $630 million to help in land reform after independence but only availed $47 million in 10 years. From 1980, when Zimbabwe got its independence, to 1990, land reform was on a willing buyer and willing seller arrangement. Not much progress was made. It is laughable that anyone would believe there was some chance of this method working. Who would willingly sell a cash cow? For those who agreed to sell, just how much would they charge? Naturally, the government had to deal with inflated prices or unwillingness. To top it off, the donors refused to send in money for the programme, alleging corruption.
After 1990, compulsory acquisition made its splashy entrance into the scene and the willing buyer and seller system was dumped to the behest of neo-imperialists. Not much progress was made and in 1998, the country held a Land Reform Donor Conference where it outlined its programme. Zimbabwe estimated that it needed $1.1 billion but only $100 million was pledged amid pressure from Britain to revert to the willing seller system. Britain expected to be in charge of the corrective process when it was part of the problem. South Africa should reject neo-colonialist influence on policy. If it accepts such interference and pressure, the process will be slow as seen in Zimbabwe.
While Zimbabwe was frustrated by Western indifference to the point of violently grabbing land, South Africa has done a clean job of introducing compulsory expropriation without compensation. The very sound explanation is: the settlers did not pay when they dispossessed natives of their land. However, that explanation does not help matters in the global political economy. South Africa has opened itself up for abuse and bullying from the self crowned top dogs of the world. It is going to face consequences for outrighly rebelling against the international elite just as Zimbabwe did and economist Eddie Cross estimates that the cost of Zimbabwean land reform is close to $20 billion. In fact, there have been indications that Zimbabwe will compensate after all. However, one needs to be alive to the fact that the manner in which land was acquired in Zimbabwe left a lot to be desired. It was a violent process of humiliating the white man and the West reacted defensively.
At this point, South Africa seems to be making all the right moves where Zimbabwe failed. Laws should come before acquisition and grabbing should not be sanitised by laws. Hopefully the blacks who take the land are equipped with financial support and expertise to avoid a twin of the Zimbabwean slump. Zimbabwe's southern neighbor has a chance to emulate the Zimbabwean spirit of expropriation but factor in order and decency to the equation. South Africa has a chance to prove that land can be taken back for the same price it was taken from the black man: Nothing.