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Eric Bloch Column

Land nationalisation another disaster


T week Minister of Special Affairs in the Office of the President and Cabinet responsible for Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement John Nkomo told the state-controlled media that the government intends to nationalise all productive farmland, from crop fields to conservancies, wherever that land exists in Zimbabwe.

In effecting that nationalisation, all title deeds are to be abolished and replaced with leases. In the case of leases of land used for farming, the leases would have a 99-year tenure, while land utilised for wildlife and conservancies would have a tenure of 25 years only.

The minister stated that 99-year leases would, in all material respects, be “leases in perpetuity” — which tenants may well believe at the inception of the leases, but will their descendants feel likewise 90 years hence?

The relevant legislation has yet to be placed before parliament and, in fact, has not yet even been issued as a Bill for consideration and comment by the appropriate parliamentary portfolio committee, the community at large and, in particular — as they will be the most affected — the farmers.

The government said this week that it was not contemplating any changes in land tenure.

But already large swathes of farmland have been taken into state ownership. And more are bound to follow.

The government has consistently sought to justify its land policies on a spurious contention that the entirety of the land that is Zimbabwe was “stolen” by the colonialists of the 1890s. It has repeated that so often that by now it believes its own lie.

The hard facts, no matter how much the government may dispute them and contend otherwise, are that most of the land in the country was unoccupied and unutilised. At that time, the total population of Zimbabwe was between 250 000 and 400 000, with the greatest numbers living in proximity to what are now the cities of Harare and Bulawayo.

With a total area of 390 245 square kilometres, if all the land were possessed by the then residents of the country, each of those residents — whether man, woman or child — would have been occupying at least a square kilometre. The mind boggles at the thought of one man, one woman, or one child being able to own and use productively such an area — and that without resources!

The government also conveniently disregards that almost all lands, other than in the commercial areas and established state lands, were purchased by those in occupation when the government embarked upon its draconian, catastrophically harmful land policies.

Howsoever the lands were acquired in the late 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century, most lands passed into new ownership over the following 70 or 80 years through negotiation of sale and purchase on a commercial basis. The new owners utilised their lawfully acquired capital to buy the land, or committed themselves to borrowings which they serviced and repaid through decades of sweat, tears and hard labour.

But the government being devoid of resources, mainly because it had frittered away much of the largesse forthcoming from the international community after Independence, had to fabricate a justification not to pay for the land it intended to steal — and steal it was and is, no matter how much the government may prevaricate to the contrary.

Because the government is determined to displace whites, and motivate as many as possible to leave Zimbabwe, and because it is even more determined to use land as the tool to assure support from the populace and continue its authoritarian domination of the country, but does not have the resources to pay for land, it seeks to justify non-payment and to transfer liability to Britain, which was the colonising power more than a 100 years ago.

But now, with the government’s reported intent to nationalise all land, it is not only depriving whites of that which they had developed, admittedly for their own good, but also for the benefit of the economy and, therefore, of all who live — or lived — in Zimbabwe, many of the non-white population are to be so deprived.

There are numerous who, since Independence, acquired farmlands — including almost all of the hierarchy of Zanu PF — some paying for them from hard-earned income. And, in the last few years, since the government actively started to pursue its land reform, redistribution and resettlement programme, many were allocated farms as A2 beneficiaries.

Having been told they would own the land, now the government is about to go back on its own word, with a makeshift “consolation” of a lease to replace title.

Over four years the government has successfully brought most of agriculture to its knees, and in the process, has reduced the entire economy to a like circumstance. It has been the catalyst of mass poverty, misery, malnutrition and death.

The president disputes any contentions of death by malnutrition, and especially if voiced by Archbishop Pius Ncube in his distress at witnessing widespread suffering, and yet the city of Bulawayo had to bury 38 last month whose cause of death was malnutrition. Extrapolate that number across all Zimbabwe’s urban and rural areas, and the conclusion is horrifying in the extreme!

It is nought but the government’s actions that have reduced the tobacco crop by 75% in three years, that has resulted in maize production being, at best, one-third of the national need, no matter how extensively the government may pretend a sufficiency of food production, and that has decimated the national herd by two-thirds.

But the government’s task is not complete. There is still some agricultural production, so further measures are needed, if total destruction is to be wrought, and hence recourse to land nationalisation. Compounding all the state’s political motivation for further dogmatic ruination of agriculture and the economy, the government misguidedly also perceives land nationalisation as a further source of revenues, for the lessees of the farms will be required to pay rent to the fiscus.

This latest imminent blunder by the government will have other disastrous economic effects. Nkomo enunciated an outright contradiction when he said that “99-year leases will act as good enough collateral”, but thereafter said that land may not be sold or leased to third parties.

If leases are not freely transferable, capable of being ceded and assigned to third parties, how can they constitute valid collateral to provide lenders with security that their loans will be fully and timeously serviced and repaid?

Yet another adverse economic consequence of the intended nationalisation of land is that even the very few intending investors into the economy as still existed, both foreign and domestic, are already seriously re-evaluating the desirability of investment in Zimbabwe. The government’s recurrent endeavours to deprive many of their ownership of land have long had negative impacts upon investor confidence, but the latest pronouncement has shaken the limited remaining confidence.

There is now a wide-ranging fear that the nationalisation of farmlands will prove to be the precursor of future nationalisation of mines, of tourism resorts, of manufacturing industries, of financial sector and other enterprises, and of urban lands. The precedent being set by farmland nationalisation can well suggest to the government future avenues of trying to conjure up national electorate support by promises of great wealth redistribution.

This latest governmental move must discourage existing enterprise from expansion, and investors from investing. So new jobs will not be created, exports will not increase, economic activity will not be stimulated and the fiscus will not enjoy increased revenue flows.

Instead, the economy will decline further, hardships for the majority will intensify, more will face starvation, and Zimbabwe will soon become Africa’s poorest state, if not the poorest worldwide.

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