As late as 2008, Reuters, a news agency, would invariably add a phrase to their articles to say that “President Robert Mugabe’s government began seizing white-owned farms to resettle landless blacks.”  It is quite true that the resettlement programme soon after Independence and during the 1980s did resettle the poor and landless. But, by 2008 the debate had moved decisively towards the need for a land audit to identify those Zimbabweans who had seized multiple farms.
This article looks back on how land policy and the rules of the resettlement game have changed over the last three decades. There was never a dispute about the need to correct the historical imbalance in land distribution. Nor was there any question that land would be acquired from white farmers. What have been contested were the criteria, methods, pace, ambitions and, above all, the laws and rules for acquiring and distributing land. In this paper I examine how the rules changed for acquiring land and for allocating it.