updated 6/8/2004 12:50:53 PM ET 2004-06-08T16:50:53

In its latest crackdown on democratic freedoms, the government announced Tuesday that all farmland will be nationalized and private land ownership abolished.

All land, including more than 5,000 former white-owned farms handed over to blacks, will become state-owned and subject to state-issued leases, Land Reform Minister John Nkomo said.

Title deeds of farm properties will be scrapped and replaced by 99-year leases with rent payable to government, the state Herald newspaper reported.

“There shall be no such thing as private land,” Nkomo said.

Since the farm seizures began in 2000, about 200,000 black families have been allocated former white-owned land. About a quarter were given larger properties for commercial rather than small scale farming.

Hundreds of black farmers also bought commercial farms on the property market which will now be nationalized.

Nkomo asked land owners or occupiers to come forward for vetting to qualify for state leases.

He did not indicate when the nationalization program would be completed.

The government does not intend to “waste time and money” in disputes on seizures of individual farms whose owners held title deeds and other legal documents, he said.

Nkomo said a National Land Board was to be set up to supervise nationalization of all productive farmland and its effective use.

Food production disrupted
Since 2000, the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms, along with erratic rains, have been blamed for disrupting production in the agriculture-based economy, leading to acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline and other imports.

Critics say much of the best farmland was given to supporters of President Robert Mugabe and is underutilized or is lying fallow.

Production on many resettled farms has dropped sharply as new farmers lacked money and loans and also reported shortages of seed, fertilizer, fuel and farm machinery such as tractors and plows.

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

But that, said independent Harare economist John Robertson, was “a miscomprehension.”

Move seen as frightening away investors
“The banks aren’t going to lend to an individual against a lease that belongs to the state. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t borrow on the strength of something you don’t own,” he said.

The nationalization program is likely to further hurt the ailing economy by frightening away what little investment Zimbabwe still receives, Robertson said. It also would also cast new uncertainty over general property rights including home ownership rights, that likely would undermine already struggling businesses and commercial activity, he said.

“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.

Land seizures have slashed production of food and tobacco — once the nation’s biggest hard currency earner.

United Nations crop forecasts predict Zimbabwe, once a regional breadbasket, will produce only half its food needs this year.

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