The government of Zimbabwe has pledged to seize the last remaining handful of white-owned farms in the impoverished African country, confident that turning over a few hundred farms to the majority black population will improve its terrible living standards.
Since 2000, President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have pursued a series of “land reforms” that have seized farmland belonging to whites in order to redistribute it to landless blacks. About 4,000 farmers had their lands seized in the first wave, leaving only a few hundred commercial white farmers operating in the country.
Now, that number is poised to drop even further, as ministers vowed to finish the land reforms in areas that were protected from the first wave in order to give land to thousands who still lack it.
“The white farmers who are carrying out farming activities on gazetted land will not be tolerated as it is illegal in terms of the laws of the country,” Zimbabwe State Minister Joel Biggie Matiza said on Wednesday, according to the Zimbabwean news source News Day. “In this province, we were protecting the very people who yesteryear were our erstwhile oppressors.”
Similar statements have been made by other members of the government, who have also pledged to dispossess larger landowners in general.
“Those with multiple farms, we will take them, the few whites on farms, we will look into that and those with big farms, we will cut to size,” promised Zimbabwe Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa last weekend.
Meanwhile, Land and Resettlement Minister Douglas Mombeshora said that whites in land disputes with blacks have only 90 days to leave if they want to avoid trouble with the law. He also said whites will be barred from entering joint contracts that would let them operate farmland (and take most of the earnings) while making payments to black owners.
“Joint ventures with white former commercial farmers, we say no to that,” said Mombeshora, according to the Zimbabwe newspaper News Day. “We have never allowed that.”
Zimbabwe, formerly known as Southern Rhodesia, is almost entirely black, but its tiny white minority has historically been very economically influential. Mugabe’s government argues that land seizures reverse the damage from decades of British colonial rule, but the seizures have also been blamed for the country’s continued economic backwardness, as the new owners have often lacked either the skills or the means needed to maintain output.
Since the land reforms, Zimbabwe has been in a near-constant state of economic distress. Once a major food producer and one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s wealthier countries, Zimbabwe is now quite poor even by African standards, and has to rely on food imports. Before the country abandoned its own currency entirely, inflation was so severe that the country’s trillion-dollar bills weren’t worth enough to buy a candy bar.
Mugabe has also used the seizures to enrich his family and other politically connected individuals, often at the expense of the poor blacks the seizures were supposedly supposed to help. Recently, Mugabe’s wife Grace Mugabe aroused anger for burning the homes of poor farmers in order to take their lands and merge them into a wildlife sanctuary.
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