Land reform masks power struggle: Zimbabwe's contradictory statements on land nationalisation caused a great deal of confusion inside and outside the country. Was this in fact, Tom Nevin speculates, the starting signal for a power struggle to take over from Robert Mugabe?

Author:Nevin, Tom

The public face of a power struggle for presidential succession might have been behind contradictory statements emanating from the Zimbabwe government over plans to nationalise all land in the country.

Within hours of each other, two contenders for President Robert Mugabe's leadership of ruling Zanu-Pf party issued statements they both insisted reflect government land policy. In the first, Land Reform Minister and Zanu-PF party chairman, John Nkomo, made absolutely no bones about the government's intentions when he stated: "The government will nationalise all farmland by cancelling the titles to all productive land and replacing them with 99-year leases. In the end all land shall be state land and there will be no such thing called private land. The state should not waste time and money on acquisitions."

In case not everyone was clear on his meaning, he added: "Ultimately, all land shall be resettled as state land. We want a situation whereby this very important resource becomes a national asset."

No so, asserted Information Minister Jonathan Moyo quickly, categorically rejecting his senior colleague's announcement. "There is no change in government policy. This (99-year lease) position only applies to land acquired by the state under land reforms, and does not in any way invalidate or supersede other lawful forms of tenure which, in any case, are recognised and protected by the laws of the land."

Since 2000, the Zimbabwean government has confiscated almost 70% of the country's productive farmland, which has been redistributed with 99-year leases. Most of the country's productive lands are thus already in state hands.

The nationalising scheme as presented by Nkomo, however, would include less productive lands and properties not used for agricultural purposes.

Scores of former Zimbabwean farmers have re-located to other African countries such as Mozambique, Zambia, Nigeria and Uganda where they are leasing farmlands. (see following story).


President Robert Mugabe has stated frequently in the past five years that he intends stepping down. Maybe this time he means it. If this is so, then the battle for top dog could be spilling over into the open, and it might not be long before such other challengers as Vice-President Joseph Msika and party faithfuls Emmerson Mnangagwa and Sydney Sekeramayi toss their hats into the ring.

What makes Mugabe's retirement more probable and the fight for succession more public...

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