GOVERNMENT’S proposed constitutional amendment to effectively nationalise all land it acquires could mark the end of private property ownership and dash hopes of any economic recovery in the near future.
Analysts say government’s propos
ed constitutional amendment to the Land Act to ensure all land gazetted for acquisition since 2000 is not contested in the courts of law will undermine property rights and reduce the market value of land.
The Human Rights NGO Forum warns that nationalising land will erode the fundamental right to property and hamper economic revival plans.
Making its submission on the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill, which will effectively nationalise land, the human rights umbrella body said the move was “ill-advised and damaging”.
“Not only landowners will be affected: anyone with an interest or right in land will lose their right or interest if the land is acquired under the new section, and they will not receive compensation except for improvements,” the group said.
“Mortgagees will therefore lose their security and will be unable to recover anything from the state to mitigate their loss.”
The NGO Forum said although their primary concern was human rights, the proposed law would have “disastrous economic effects”.
“Owners and occupiers of land, particularly rural farmland, will lose all security of tenure. They will become mere tenants-at-will of the state,” it said.
“Large-scale commercial agriculture will be impossible because financial institutions will not underwrite agricultural activities for fear that someone will publish a notice in a Government Gazette and render their security worthless.”
The forum said prospects of economic recovery would be shattered by the legislation.
“Any hopes of economic recovery through agricultural develop-ment will wither as soon as the new law comes into force,” it said. “Industrial development, too, may be retarded because, as indicated above, the section will apply to land that is capable of being used for agriculture even if it is being used for something else.”
The civic group said the impact of the Bill on human rights was chilling.
“The impact of the proposed law on human rights is equally obvious. It will deprive Zimbabweans of their right to property and to protection of the law, although these rights are guaranteed by our constitution and by international instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party,” it said.
“The Bill is appalling in its wide reach and arbitrary nature. There is no applicable definition of ‘agricultural land’, so almost all land in Zimbabwe will be subject to expropriation under the new law.”
The forum said only land that was not possible to farm would fall outside the ambit of the law. “Hence even residential stands in urban areas will be subject to compulsory acquisition under the law, provided the stands are large enough to produce a few flowers and vegetables,” it said.
“Agricultural land — whatever that is — may be acquired for any purpose whatever. The mere fact that a landowner has fallen from political favour will be sufficient reason to expropriate his land.”
Analysts said the amendment would completely derail Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s call to make agriculture a bankable business. In May Gono advocated a “command” form of agriculture so as to revive the country’s food security and self-sufficiency.
The analysts said Gono’s call had provided a glimmer of hope to the collapsing agricultural sector and offered a direct shift from government’s populist policies that have reduced the one-time breadbasket of southern Africa to a net importer of food while vast stretches of former productive land lie idle.
“Since the March election there has been a lot of excitement and expectations, which has been instilled by a new government policy of production and the stated implementation of an ambitious recovery programme but the amendment will take us backwards,” one analyst said.
He said while there has been a lot of encouraging words said and offers of huge amounts of short-term, low interest concessionary finance by the RBZ, there is still instability on the ground, with farmers facing daily evictions.
Farmers’ organisations warned that the proposed constitutional amendment would result in land being owned along party lines rather than the capacity to produce.
Justice for Agriculture chairman John Worswick told a parliamentary hearing last week that the amendment would nationalise all farmland, making it lose its market value.
“If the amendment passes, land in Zimbabwe will be owned on the basis of patronage and not one’s productiveness or ingenuity,” Worswick said. “While China has accepted the need for individual property rights, Zimbabwe is moving completely in the opposite direction,” he said.
Worswick said land the world over was not owned by the state but by individuals and companies with leases and title deeds, which gives the land market value.
Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) president Doug Taylor-Freeme last week took a swipe at the proposed amendment saying it would speed up the collapse of agriculture.
“It is extremely alarming to note that a new proposed gazette announcing a constitutional amendment to the Land Act has been put to parliament,” he said. “It is proposed that all land gazetted for acquisition since 2000 cannot be contested in court. As virtually every white farmer has been listed for acquisition in some way or the other this surely provides direct evidence that a process of ethnic cleansing is taking place.”
Taylor-Freeme said the proposed gazette was an admission that the existing Land Act was not workable and that government had failed to acquire land in an orderly, legal and amicable way, hence the use of violence, disruptions and forced evictions that have occurred since 2000.
“If the objective of the authorities by introducing such draconian legislation is to get agriculture back to work they are wrong! It is likely to increase the conflict of ownership of the business on the land and reduce meaningful investment in agriculture,” Taylor-Freeme said.
He said there was no will or capacity to find a lasting solution to the crisis in the farming sector because fundamental principles had not been dealt with.
“Nationally agricultural output has predictably declined further despite claims from various authorities that more hectares have been planted and higher tonnages expected. In the business world such claims have become a national joke as authorities attempt to cover up the reality on the ground,” he said.
Taylor-Freeme said a major constraint to increased productivity was the uncertainty of tenure in the agricultural sector where farmers are evicted on a daily basis.
The constitutional amendment comes at a time when prospects of producing enough food in the 2005/6 season have been dealt a major blow by the shortage of inputs.
Seed and fertiliser companies revealed to farmers at their recent annual congress that they would not be able to meet the country’s requirements due to forex shortages and continued evictions of producers.
Zimbabwe’s largest maize seed producer, Seed Co, said a paltry 33 000 tonnes of seed would be available from local producers.
Seed Co chief executive Pat Devenish said around 16 000 tonnes were expected from his company.
“Our seed production dropped from 26 000 tonnes last year to an estimated 16 000 tonnes expected this year,” Devenish said. “The drop can be attributed to poor rains this year and lack of expertise on seed production by the new farmers.”
Pannar and other seed houses are expected to avail 17 000 tonnes.
Zimbabwe requires 100 000 tonnes of maize seed to meet demand for its commercial, resettled and communal farmers. The deficit can only be covered through expensive imports.