Mugabe crosses the Rubicon whites are forced off the land.


Zimbabwe's President Mugabe's decision to nationalise half the country's commercial farmland has come as a shock. While the redistribution of the land is being welcomed by blacks, the economic impact could be catastrophic. ANDREW MELDRUM sounds out public opinion in this report.

In an earthshaking move, the Zimbabwe government has started to nationalise half the country's commercial farmland, most of which is owned by whites, to redistribute to blacks.

"It is hard to believe, I still can't believe it," said a visibly shocked Mr David Hasluck, whose farm in eastern Zimbabwe was designated for government takeover and redistribution to blacks. Speaking with a voice choked with emotion as he surveyed the 1,300 hectare farm, Mr Hasluck said "I am a Zimbabwean, this is my home and I don't want to farm anywhere but here. I don't want to even think about it."

It was not only the white farmers who were upset by the move by President Robert Mugabe's government to seize control of nearly 5m hectares of large-scale farms. Economists, bankers and business people both black and white, warn that the government's hasty, ill-planned action to seize so much of the country's productive assets could well throw Zimbabwe into an economic tail-spin that could spell disaster for the entire country.

"It is a self-inflicted wound of ghastly, gigantic proportions," says Mr John Robertson, a leading independent economist. "It is an unprecedented act of economic sabotage by the government against all the people of Zimbabwe."

"The government's takeover of these farms amounts to the nationalisation of 1,503 private businesses," charged Mr Washington Sansole of the opposition Forum party of Zimbabwe who warned that foreign investors would shun Zimbabwe.

While the rest of Africa is moving towards free market economic policies and privatisation of state-owned corporations, Zimbabwe is defiantly marching in the opposite direction by nationalising these farms, each of which are multi-million dollar enterprises.

The economic effects include a threatened reduction in Zimbabwe's agricultural productivity, reduction in major export crops like tobacco, a reduction in employment and, overall a certain reduction in Zimbabwe's GDP. Crashes in the value of the Zimbabwe dollar and in the Zimbabwe stock exchange at the end of November are linked to the government's movement to nationalise so much privately-owned land.

17 years after Zimbabwe's independence, the nationalisation of such vast tracts of land shows that President Robert Mugabe has dropped reconciliation and moderation in favour of vindictive and extreme policies. The move runs counter to policy in other African countries, especially South Africa, where land reform to correct colonial inequities has begun with a careful approach in which the court system determines who has rightful claims to land.

Mr Mugabe's new land grab may well...

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