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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Europeans in Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe Facts
Area:    390,580 sq. km.
Capital:    Harare
Total Population:    11,000,000 (source: unknown, 1995, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Based on factors known to encourage rebellion, whites in Zimbabwe have a reasonable likelihood of doing so. They have a history of past protest and have a good basis for organization because of their territorial concentration in urban areas, strong group identity and preexisting organizations. In addition, the lack of democracy in Zimbabwe and the lack of efforts for reform may make other options seem fruitless. Furthermore, the example of serious armed conflict in neighboring countries may make violence seem like a reasonable option. However, there has not been regime instability that typically is associated with rebellion. The government, however, has increased its anti-European policies in recent years. Mugabe has instituted and reinforced a land reform policy, which strips European farmers of their land. This has resulted in worsened economics for European farmers as well as a decrease in the amount of food available to the country as a whole. Mugabe has also taken measures that make it difficult for Europeans to vote in the country as he has targeted dual citizens, many of whom are European. In order to maintain their Zimbabwean citizenship, a dual citizen is required to renounce his or her other citizenship. This increasing lack of rights has led the Europeans to leave the area, as neighboring nations have extended their invitation for white farmers or it may put the group at risk for rebellion against Mugabe’s regime. Conversely, the transnational support for an equitable solution to Zimbabwe’s land problem should help pressure the government into finding some sort of solution.


Analytic Summary

Whites in Zimbabwe live separately from blacks, mostly in urban areas (GROUPCON = 1). They have not migrated broadly within the state, though many have been internally displaced in recent years on account of the government’s seizure of white farms (DISPLACE04-06 = 1). Whites are racially (RACE = 3) and culturally (CUSTOM = 1) very distinct from the majority Shona. However, given that English is Zimbabwe’s official language and the only language used for communication in government, Europeans are not at a disadvantage due to language differentials, even though the majority of Zimbabweans speak Shona as their first and primary language (LANG = 2).

Europeans came to Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, in the 19th century. They dominated the area politically and economically from the turn of the 20th century until 1980.The British allowed the white settlers full control over the area. The settlers implemented racist policies that advocated separate development for whites and blacks. In the 1960s, the British encountered both international pressure and internal rebellion regarding these policies. Therefore, they sought to give more rights to the majority African population. White nationalists, led by Ian Smith, protested, and in 1965, Smith illegally declared independence from Britain. Rhodesia, much like South Africa, was considered a pariah state in the international community, and pressure was brought to bear on it by the United Nations. Beginning in 1966, Smith also faced an internal rebellion from two groups, the Shona-dominated Zimbabwean African National Union and the Ndebele-led Zimbabwean African People's Union. A war of independence ensued. It lasted until all sides reached an agreement in late 1979 leading to black majority rule.

Whites in Zimbabwe did not suffer political discrimination until the dual citizenship policy resulted in the loss of the right of some Europeans to vote (POLDIS01-06 = 4) and they do not suffer cultural discrimination. However, they do suffer economic discrimination in regards to land reform (ECDIS01-06 = 4). In the past, whites owned one-half of the arable land in the country and they dominated business and industry. Before large-scale land reform was implemented, Zimbabwe was a food-exporting country; and the large commercial white-owned farms accounted for 80 percent of the nation's agricultural production and 40 percent of it foreign exchange earnings. In 1993, President Mugabe announced that he was expropriating 70 large commercial farms for redistribution. The Land Acquisition Act of 1992 allows the government to seize white-owned land with little compensation and no right of appeal. In 1999, the government passed further legislation to seize large farms for redistribution without compensation. In 2000, black squatters, with clandestine government support, took over 1,600 farms. Many whites fled to other countries. In 2001-2003, Mugabe even more severely imposed his land redistribution policy -- by 2001 85-90 percent of European farmers were displaced. In August 2005, Zimbabwe’s parliament amended the national constitution to further strip white farmers of the right to appeal land seizures and also authorized the government to withdraw passports from white citizens who might pose a threat to national security. Accordingly, during the period of 2004-2006, the government seized additional lands from more than 700 white farmers (REPGNECIV04-06 = 4).

Subsequently, the only two grievances of the white community are protecting people from squatter attacks and protecting resources from government redistribution and squatter take-overs (ECGR04-06 = 1). Whites are somewhat organized to attain these goals. Although they belong to several political parties from left to right, there is also single group to represent farmer interests, Commercial Farmers Union (GOJPA06 = 2). In addition, whites in Zimbabwe are a strong identity group and are not hampered by any violent internal divisions (INTRACON01-06 = 0). Furthermore, there has been international condemnation for the government’s land re-distribution policies and its refusal to remove the squatters. The World Bank has even offered funding to help compensate farmers and accomplish redistribution fairly.

Because of the land issue, tensions between whites and blacks in Zimbabwe, and whites and the government in Zimbabwe, are high. Five farmers were killed in 2000; others were beat up, and property was destroyed (INTERCON00 = 1). In 2001 the Zanu-PF youths beat Europeans indiscriminantly (INTERCON01 = 1). Thousands of Zanu-PF supporters engaged in a series of anti-white demonstrations throughout Zimbabwe during 2004 (INTERCON04 = 1). In regards to the squatters, there is evidence that the military was directing some of the invasions and that the ruling party paid some of the squatters. Furthermore, President Mugabe has increased his anti-white rhetoric. Many analysts feel the issue is being used by Mugabe to focus attention away from his own failed economic policies and the worsening living conditions throughout the country. So far, whites have reacted peacefully (PROT99 = 1, PROT00 = 3, PROT01-03 = 0, PROT04-06 = 1). They have used the courts to protect their rights. The courts continue to vote in the favor of white farmers but the orders have gone unheeded. Whites have also participated in work stoppages and general strikes.



CIA. World Factbook. "Zimbabwe.", accessed 3/31/2009.

Nelson, Harold D., ed. 1983. Zimbabwe: A Country Study. Washington, DC: US GPO.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

U.S. State Department. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Zimbabwe. 1990-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006