Zimbabwe nationalises all farmland in 'return to feudalism'

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The Zimbabwe government has announced that all farmland will be nationalised, including all privately owned game parks, and private land ownership banned. The move has been described as the "single biggest shock" of President Robert Mugabe's rule since independence from Britain in 1980.

The Zimbabwe government has announced that all farmland will be nationalised, including all privately owned game parks, and private land ownership banned. The move has been described as the "single biggest shock" of President Robert Mugabe's rule since independence from Britain in 1980.

"This has effectively turned back the clock and put Zimbabwe back into the centuries-old feudal economic systems which benefited the kings and their aristocrats and impoverished the poor," said the prominent Zimbabwean economist John Robertson.

In an announcement in the state owned Herald newspaper, John Nkomo, the Special Affairs Minister in the President's office in charge of Land Reform and Resettlement, ordered all private land owners to give up their land to the government immediately. He said they can then apply to the government for permission to lease the land.

He did not say when the nationalisation process would be completed. "In the end all land shall be state land and there will be no such thing called private land," Mr Nkomo said. "It will now be the state which will enable the utilisation of the land for national prosperity."

The system of title deeds will be replaced with 99-year-long leases on all land now being nationalised and appropriated by the state. Leases on the predominantly white-owned private game parks would be limited to only 25 years to allow more blacks to partake in the lucrative sector, said Mr Nkomo.

The Zimbabwe government has been seizing all white-owned farms and re-allocating them to blacks to promote private ownership of land by blacks, previously disadvantaged by colonial-era policies.

The latest move means even those blacks have now been deprived of their private ownership of land as all land will now be owned by the state.

"Effectively, this means it is no longer possible for any person to use land or any building on that land - be it a house or factory - as collateral to borrow money from banks as it is classified as state land," said a government economist on condition of anonymity.

"There is no better and quicker way of destroying an economy. I frankly don't know who advised them on this unacceptable step." Mr Robertson said the move would in effect stop any new foreign investment in Zimbabwe. It would also freeze all economic growth as nobody would have collateral to borrow money and develop their business.

Mr Nkomo disputed that, saying the people approved as lease-holders could use the 99-year leases as collateral.

But Mr Robertson said: "A lease has no collateral nor market value. A lease means you don't own the property and no bank can regard something you don't own as collateral."

The decision to nationalise all land is being seen as the final nail in the coffins of all the 4,000-plus white farmers whose land had already been seized but had been hoping to somehow get it back. This will no longer be possible as it is now classified as state land. The few remaining white farmers, estimated at fewer than 400, would have to give up their land with no hope of getting it back. It is highly unlikely that Mugabe would consider giving leases to any white farmers since he has been compulsorily taking their land and driving them out of the country.

The move also means the legal process of serving notices of acquisition of properties on farmers is no longer necessary as they simply forfeit their land to the state.

Mr Nkomo said the government did not need to "waste time and money" in disputes with white farmers on seizures of individual farms whose owners held title deeds which they used in the courts to fight the seizures of their properties.

Critics say the nationalisation process was one of Mugabe's biggest assaults on individual freedoms in Zimbabwe as the country's constitution protected property rights.

"Respect for private tenure and title on property is the basis on which all successful societies have been built," said a commercial bank economist who did not want to be named. "Instead of learning from countries like Britain and Japan which prospered by developing the concept of private ownership long back, from systems where all properties were owned by kings and emperors, Mugabe has effectively converted Zimbabwe into another North Korea."

He said that economic history showed that all countries that nationalised land had experienced stagnation until they developed private ownership. He said the disparities between North Korea and South Korea were illustrative of the evils of nationalisation. A farmer who was last week served with a notice for the compulsory seizure of his farm said he had given up all hope. "It would be plain futile for me to even contemplate trying to fight for my rights now. The reasonable thing for me is to leave this country and start elsewhere before I am caught in the next storm of Mugabe madness," said the farmer, who also asked not to be named. "If they can do this thing in this day and age, what can stop them from announcing they are seizing my refrigerator, and then my stove and in the end my wife."

South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has urged President Thabo Mbeki to intervene immediately. Mr Mbeki has so far spurned all calls to use his country's leverage with Zimbabwe to rein in Mr Mugabe.

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