Zimbabwe's Land and Resettlement Minister John Nkomo has announced a plan to nationalize all Zimbabwe's land and replace deeds of ownership with 99-year leases.
Central bank governor Gideon Gono, speaking from the United States, said, as a banker, he was pleased the plan offered a clear, decisive way forward. He said commercial banks would view leases as bankable assets, which would be used as security against loans.
But opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said converting title deeds to leases was unconstitutional. He said the Zimbabwe government had taken this step to try and make sense of its failed land expropriation policies.
Spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, David Coltart said as the plan was unveiled, it appears to apply to all land including small plots owned by urban dwellers. He said bestowing or withholding leases will give the government and the ruling Zanu PF party considerable control over the population.
A ruling Zanu PF politician, Josiah Tungimirai, who bought his farm, said he believes the government wanted to move forward from the past four years and would hand out leases fairly. Another black farmer who has bought several farms said he has invested heavily in his land would expect to be compensated for the loss of ownership.
The once powerful, mostly white Commercial Farmers Union said 99-year leaseholds would differ little from ownership as long as they were transferable and could be used as a security for loans.
Since the land-expropriation campaign started in 2000, the government has seized more than 11-million hectares of white-owned land. Much of the best land has ended in the hands of Zanu PF leaders and government officials, military officers and many leading judges.
Zimbabwe's agriculture, which was once capable of earning nearly one-half of the country's foreign currency earnings, is not producing enough food to feed the country. In the past two years, about 5.5 million Zimbabweans, or nearly one-half of the population, relied on international donations for food.
So far, there were only few details of the nationalization program disclosed.