- The government of Zimbabwe yesterday announced its "objective of nationalising all productive farmland" in the country, according to the state-owned press. Ultimately, "there will be no such thing called private land," while land users are to be confined to lease contracts of varying length.
Land Reform Minister John Nkomo revealed this to the Harare daily 'Herald' - ruling party organ - in an interview published yesterday. According to Minister Nkomo, Zimbabwean authorities had already stepped up efforts to acquire more land - including productive farmland, crop fields and wildlife conservancies - to be nationalised.
The government wants to abolish title deed holdings and replace them with 99-year-long leases, Minister Nkomo told 'The Herald'. "Ultimately, all land shall be resettled as state property. It will now be the state which will enable the utilisation of the land for national prosperity," he added.
- We want a situation whereby this very important resource becomes a national asset, 'The Herald quoted the Minister as saying. "We don't believe that land should be used for speculative reasons. Title deeds are no longer issues we can waste our time on because the 99-year leases will act as good enough collateral."
According to the Land Reform Minister, farm land is still being compulsorily acquired. The Harare government wanted to avoid an "odious process" of buying or acquiring each and every land property in the country and therefore urged land owner to come forward and establish 99-year leasing contract with the state for farm lands and shorter leases for other types of land.
The announcement by Minister Nkomo comes as the last in a series of wide-ranging land reform efforts in Zimbabwe. There had been a general agreement about the necessity of land reform in Zimbabwe, where the colonial era had left around 70 percent of the country's most productive farmland in the hands of a small group of about 4,500 farmers of European descent.
This agreement however evaporated as the government of President Robert Mugabe revealed how the land reform was to take place. The farmers were - often violently - driven from their land without compensation and most of these productive farmlands were redistributed to the political allies of President Mugabe. Many farm workers were also driven from the farms.
This violent land reform also left most of the farms unproductive and the country's most important cash crops - especially tobacco - has yielded only a fraction of what it used to. This slump in the country's agricultural production has been among the most important reasons for Zimbabwe's economic collapse during the last years.
Also the move to nationalise all land in Zimbabwe is controversial among economists. While a system of state ownership combined with lease contract is common throughout the African continent, this is often seen as a major problem for economic development.
Unclear ownership status hinders investments on the land as leasers are discouraged from investing and banks are discouraged from giving credits, several economists hold. In most of Africa, there is therefore a tendency towards privatising the land so as to encourage investments and development.
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