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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 15:56 GMT
Zimbabwe clash with Oppenheimer dynasty
Nicky Oppenheimer
Nicky Oppenheimer heads Africa's most powerful family
The Oppenheimer dynasty in South Africa is heading for a confrontation with the Zimbabwe Government over land reform.

The Oppenheimers control two of Africa's richest companies - the Anglo American Corporation and De Beers - and own 2.4 million acres of farmland in Zimbabwe - approximately the size of Belgium.

The family is resisting government calls to hand over a large proportion of its landholdings.

But Zimbabwe vice-president Joseph Msika has visited Oppenheimer ranches to tell them that an interim agreement has been reached.


Family spokesman Clifford Elphick told the BBC's World Business Report that it was not their understanding that land is going to be seized

"There is a process of discussion between Nicky Oppenheimer and the Zimbabwean government," he said.

We don't believe the seizure of land is imminent or on the agenda

Oppenheimer spokesman Clifford Elphick

In September 2000 President Robert Mugabe made a rare concession on his controversial land reforms by telling Anglo American that it could keep its properties.

Now there are reports that deputy chairman Nicky Oppenheimer is under pressure to give up farms.

"A compromise is that Nicky would give his management instructions to remove cattle from some areas so crops could be planted whilst the rain was falling," Mr Elphick said.

Different solutions?

The family would then reclaim its land, but the government wants it to remain under the control of black farmers.

The problem revolves around the question of what land the family is prepared to make available to the government.

The government says it wants a total of 65,000 hectares of land by the end of the year, claiming that Anglo American's possessions amount to the size of Belgium.

"We are running a very successful business with 20,000 head of cattle on that property. It is a question of making sure the business remains viable."

"At the same time we have to make land available to the invaders, if you want to call them that - the war veterans - which would suit their needs and the sort of agriculture they want to practice," Mr Elphick said.

There is a danger that Zimbabwe is making an example of the Oppenheimer dynasty because they are so powerful.

"I hope that isn't the case because we are looking for a compromise," Mr Elphick explained.

Mr Mugabe has authorised the seizure of more than 4,500 white-owned farms as part of his often-violent drive to redistribute land he says was stolen by British settlers more than 100 years ago.

Aid agencies have warned of impending severe food shortages in Zimbabwe - citing a combination of drought and the farm invasions.

Commercial farmers say Mr Mugabe has failed to honour a deal under which his government agreed to end farm invasions in return for pledges of financial help from former colonial power Britain.

Oppenhiemer spokesman Clifford Elphick
"We are trying to reach a compromise with the Zimbabwe government."
See also:

08 Nov 01 | Africa
UN plans Zimbabwe food aid
08 Sep 01 | Africa
SA land reform frustration builds
07 Sep 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe land reform breakthrough
01 Nov 01 | Business
Zimbabwe's economy slumps
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