The British Parliament’s Africa All-party Group’s latest report, “Land in Zimbabwe: Past Mistakes, Future Prospects” claims that Britain never made nor betrayed any promises on land reform made at Lancaster House as claimed by President Robert Mugabe.

Some of the “most interesting evidence of all” came from ZANU PF and the Zimbabwean embassy in London did not claim that there was a secret deal that the UK would provide funds to pay for land reform.

“It is true that both Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo sought commitments on land reform… but the UK had to broker a deal between Ian Smith and his regime’s military on the one hand and the liberation movements on the other hand, and there was no agreement on land,” said the researchers who undertook the research presented in Parliament by Hugh Bayley, Labour MP for City of York.

At one stage in the talks, Mugabe and the late Dr Joshua Nkomo, who lead the Zimbabwean Patriotic Front delegation to the Lancaster House talks, threatened to walk out, but “a great deal of pressure was put on them by the Presidents of the front-line states, particularly Zambia and Mozambique, which were used by the Zimbabwean liberation movement fighters for their training camps and supply lines.

“Pressure from those neighbouring countries was put on the Zimbabwean liberation movements to agree a deal so that the war might end. The leaders of those movements were urged to compromise, and they did,” he said.

“There is nothing in the Lancaster House agreement promising to pay for land reform, and nothing in our conversations with the principal western Ministers involved at the time – Lord Carrington and Chester Crocker – suggested that there was any secret deal to do so.”

Britain, however, made aid available for land reform on a “willing seller, willing buyer” basis, and by 1986, 71,000 families had been resettled on land formerly owned by commercial farmers in what the Economist described at the time as “one of the most successful aid schemes in Africa”.

However, by 1985, the scheme had slowed down, and in the 1990s it stopped altogether, and when, in 1997, Robert Mugabe was losing support within ZANU PF, and came under pressure from war veterans for pensions, he capitulated to their demands.

But his capitulation did not end the demands.

“The veterans came back with more demands, including demands for land, and in 2000 Robert Mugabe instituted a fast-track land reform process. From that time onwards, Zimbabwe’s relationship with the UK, the European Union and the United States deteriorated,” said Bayley.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group had chosen to investigate this subject because the violence from farm invasions has destroyed the livelihoods of 200,000 farm workers and halved the commercial agricultural output of Zimbabwe, and because because of concern that UK policy is misunderstood in Africa as the UK having reneged on its promise made during the Lancaster House talks.

“Furthermore, many in Africa believe that we oppose farm invasions in Zimbabwe principally because it is white farmers whose land is being expropriated, and many believe that we support the European Union’s restrictive measures because we have political differences with the President of Zimbabwe.

To set the record straight and to look forwards, the Group sought to establish what was actually agreed at Lancaster House and to document what development assistance has been provided by the UK to Zimbabwe for land reform, and to examine what future land reform policies would re-establish productive agriculture to support rural livelihoods and offer job opportunities for the many farm workers who have lost their jobs through the farm invasions.

They sought and obtained evidence from representatives of the UK Government, the Secretary of State for International Development, the Zimbabwean ambassador in London, and even ZANU PF negotiating teams and their legal advisers, Lord Carrington, academics in both the UK and Zimbabwe; from Chester Crocker, the US Assistant Secretary of State who had special responsibility for Africa at the time of the Lancaster House talks, and many more.

As a result pressure from war veterans the fast-track land reform was introduced, leading to a 60 per cent fall in commercial agricultural output, an economy in free-fall and mounting inflation, with prices doubling every 24 hours at its worst.

Sir Robert Smith, a Liberal Democrat from West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine bemoaned the collapse in productive capacity and said it would be difficult to bring back the productivity without legal title to the new owners which would underpin investment in farming.

“We therefore need to bring back legal stability and a proper legal process to land ownership in countries such as Zimbabwe, to enable investment for the future so that productive capacity can be restored.”

“Willing seller, willing buyer” apparently did not work very well because the seller could not repatriate the money to the United Kingdom or wherever else they wanted to send it, as it was in the mining sector, where Lonrho negotiated a deal enabling it to take mining money out of the country, said Conservative William Cash of Stone, adding that this contributed to generating “a lot of the pressure”.

But said Bayley, since 2000, when political relations between the UK and Zimbabwe became strained, far from penalising Zimbabwe for farm invasions, the UK recognised the country’s growing humanitarian needs and increased aid from $ 20 million in 2000 to $ 89 million in 2008, which, according to independent figures from the OECD’s development assistance committee contributed to the $ 1.128 billion in aid from the UK to Zimbabwe since independence.