- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s increasingly autocratic government yesterday announced the nationalization of all land, including millions of acres seized from white farmers, and transferred it to friends of the regime.

Land Reforms Minister John Nkomo told the official Herald newspaper that all title deeds will be declared void and that the state will hand out 99-year leases for productive farmland.

The government did not intend to “waste time and money” in disputes with farmers whose land had been seized, regardless of what legal documents they held, Mr. Nkomo was quoted as saying.

“In the end, all land shall be state land and there will be no such thing called private land,” he said, encouraging all landowners to offer their newly acquired properties to be considered for leases.

Mr. Nkomo did not say when the nationalization program would be imposed, but said a national land board would be set up to supervise the process and ensure the effective use of land.

The decision appeared to be a backhanded admission that Zimbabwe is struggling to feed itself and that the situation is worsening. The opposition has long argued that the government has effectively laid waste to one of Africa’s most efficient agricultural industries.

The seizures began when President Robert Mugabe, faced with defeat in the 2000 elections, began the violent eviction of more than 4,000 white farmers and hundreds of thousands of their workers, destroying commercial agriculture, and with it, the economy.

Mr. Mugabe promised that white-owned farms were to be given to landless peasants, but many of the most fertile were taken by the elite of his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) Party.

Most of the seized land is now fallow as the new owners — including most senior members of the armed forces, the judiciary and Mr. Mugabe’s family — have neither skills nor resources to farm, and Zimbabwe has become dependent on food aid and imports to keep the population fed.

Yesterday’s decision marks an attempt to wrench land from new multiple farm “owners” and quell divisions within ZANU-PF before elections next March.

Mr. Nkomo said the state-issued leases would be sufficient collateral for farmers to secure loans to purchase material and equipment.

But independent Harare economist John Robertson disagreed. “The banks aren’t going to lend to an individual against a lease that belongs to the state. … You can’t borrow on the strength of something you don’t own,” he told the Associated Press.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, also criticized the plan. “Nationalization is an outmoded word, and it flies in the face of the constitution,” he said.

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