Lands Minister John Nkomo told Zimbabwe’s state-run newspaper The Herald on Saturday, ”Ultimately, all land shall be resettled as state property.”
“It will now be the state which will enable the utilization of the land for national prosperity.”
Nkomo said land deeds would no longer be issued to landowners or recognized. Instead the government would lease all land on a 99-year basis.
“We don’t believe that land should be used for speculative reasons,” he said. “Title deeds are no longer issues we can waste our time on because the 99-year leases will act as good enough collateral.”
Since 2000, the Zimbabwean government, led by President Robert Mugabe, has been criticized by foreign governments and international donors for its seizure of white-owned land for redistribution to the country’s blacks. The often violent land seizures have displaced about 3,500 white farmers who owned 70 percent of the country’s farmland and resettled about 200,000 black families.
Today, only about 500 white farmers remain on 3 percent of the land, according to a government report, and since January, more than 900 more farms have been listed for acquisition by the government, The Herald reported.
Critics say the most recent move will further disrupt Zimbabwe’s agricultural-dependent economy which has seen major declines and has propelled the country into a food shortage crisis. The government blames shortages on the recent drought.
“Land ownership has been a volatile issue and landlords are all too familiar with how quickly land, which originally belonged to them, can be taken away,” Dennis Nikisi, director of the Graduate School of Management at the University of Zimbabwe told the United Nations’ news service IRIN. “Without the security that title deeds provide, it is unlikely that we will see high levels of agricultural productivity.”
Harare-based economist John Robertson told the Associated Press that banks would not lend to individuals who don’t own land and that the new program could scare off investors.
“It is a very big step away from a market economy to the communist-style command economy of state control of the factors of production,” he said.
On Saturday, Nkomo said the program already is underway and that state-issued leases should be enough collateral for farmers to get bank loans for materials and equipment. He advised land owners to come forward for their new leases.
“In the end all land shall be state land and there will be no such thing called private land,” he said.
Prior to Nkomo’s announcement, the government had been following a “fast-track” land redistribution program, listing farms little by little for mandatory acquisition.
Another African country, Zambia, has a similar program where farmers operate under lease agreements, according to the IRIN report.