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Zimbabwe changes tack on land grabs
Dumisani Muleya, Business Day (SA)
September 21, 2006

IN THE clearest admission yet that its chaotic land-reform programme has failed, Zimbabwe has introduced a new law to ban farm invasions.

The Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Bill will repeal the Rural Land Occupiers (Protection from Eviction) Act that sheltered farm invaders.

This move can be seen as a belated measure to restore confidence, attract foreign investment and lure farmers back.

It also takes place ahead of a visit next week to Harare by an International Monetary Fund assessment team after the country was singled out as the weak link in regional growth. But the legislation will be a double-edged sword for farmers. While it will protect farmers battling invasions, it will make it illegal for them to remain on their land after acquisition notices are issued.

This has raised fear that cabinet ministers and senior officials want to outlaw invasions to protect themselves instead of the farmers. To fuel suspicion, the law paves the way for more government takeovers. The state has taken about 11-million hectares from white commercial farmers.

Farmers who continue to occupy land earmarked for acquisition by the state will now be jailed for a week or evicted under the law. Already there is a constitutional amendment to prevent farmers from appealing against arbitrary confiscation.

The new law comes against a backdrop of worsening agricultural failures. The collapse of agriculture due to state-sponsored farm seizures since 2000 has spawned acute shortages of basic foodstuffs, including bread, maize meal, beef, cooking oil, milk and sugar. There have also been shortages of critical agriculture-related commodities such as fertiliser, seed and stockfeed.

The latest bread shortages worsened yesterday with bread disappearing from shop shelves.

In his seconding reading of the bill on Tuesday, Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement Minister Didymus Mutasa said the law was intended to deal with "continued occupation of gazetted land without lawful authority".

"The bill seeks to make it punishable by law to hold, use or occupy a piece of land gazetted for resettlement purposes without lawful authority," he said. "It also addresses the issue of unlawful fresh farm occupations."

Mutasa said continued illegal occupation of land after the expiry of the prescribed 90 daysí acquisition notice would result in offenders getting sentences "not exceeding seven days" and being evicted from the farms.

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