Mugabe buys 1,500 farms on the cheap

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The Independent Online
The Zimbabwean government gazetted yesterday a list of 1,503 farms, owned mostly by white farmers, that it has earmarked to forcibly buy for a controversial peasant resettlement programme.

Political and economic analysts say the drive has severely undermined the southern African state's investment image, and is likely to damage its fragile economy and its chances of securing aid from the West.

The hit list includes company-owned property such as Nuanetsi Ranch Ltd, whose farm of more than 310,000-hectares in south-eastern Zimbabwe is the largest single block to be earmarked for the programme. It also includes ranches in the south-west owned by the Oppenheimer family of South Africa's gold mining group Anglo American Corporation.

The government, which says it will pay only for equipment and improvements but not the land, invited those with "genuine grounds" for objecting to designation of the farms to lodge their complaints by 28 December. The government list contains more than a dozen farms owned by black farmers, although they do not include those of senior government officials, some of whom own several farms.

President Robert Mugabe said he was pressing ahead with the controversial land reform programme because it is crucial to achieving social justice.

The mainly white Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) said in a statement yesterday that it had emphasised to the government that land reform "for whatever reason" must be judged on how it contributes to economic growth, greater food security and job creation and stability.

The government did not say when it would actually take control of the 1,503 farms earmarked. But in October, Mr Mugabe said this would happen "in the year of our Lord 1997".

Mr Mugabe's plans have stirred anger and anxiety in the country's commercial farming heartland, where many say there is already enough land on the open market for the resettlement programme. The government wants to acquire some 5.5 million hectares (13.7 million acres) - about half the land owned by white farmers.

Mr Mugabe, who has ruled since independence in 1980, says that Britain, the former colonial master, should pay for the land which he said was seized by British immigrants when they colonised the country in the 1890s. Britain has refused, arguing the farmers were now Zimbabwean citizens.

- Harare, Reuters