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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Mugabe tightens grip on land
Zimbabwe's war veterans
War veterans have already invaded white farmers' land
Zimbabwe's parliament has passed changes to the law on acquiring land giving the state almost immediate control of white-owned farms targeted for seizure.

President Robert Mugabe's government, which says it is seeking to correct imbalances in land ownership created by British colonialism, has listed thousands of white-owned farms for redistribution to poor black farmers.

The train is moving and those who do not get into the train will be left behind

Patrick Chinamasa
Justice Minister
Mr Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party used its comfortable parliamentary majority to fast-track through the changes he had made last November by decree.

Following his controversial victory in March elections, Mr Mugabe vowed to press on with his programme of land redistribution.

Parliament was recalled for an emergency session to ratify the amendments which would have become invalid this month without parliamentary approval.

Mr Mugabe, who is accused by the opposition and many Western countries of using fraud and violence to win the poll, says he wants to finish his programme of land redistribution by August.

'Land revolution'

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the changes to the law were designed to help advance Zimbabwe's "land revolution".

He said objections by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were meant to serve the white minority at the expense of the black majority.

This is a seriously bungled programme.

David Coltart, MDC

"There must be no doubt about our commitment to the land redistribution programme, and there must be no doubt at all that the train is moving and those who do not get into the train will be left behind," said Mr Chinamasa.

The MDC accuses the government of using land as an electoral bribe, while the "fast track" programme is wrecking the economy.

"This is a seriously bungled programme," said MDC MP David Coltart.

The changes to the Land Acquisition Act give the state full rights over land designated for seizure.

Any farmer or anyone else found guilty of interfering with the resettlement exercise faces a fine or jail for up to two years.

Court order

Parliament also passed a clause saying new settlers had no automatic right to white farmers' movable equipment, such as tractors and harvesters, but could buy it with the agreement of the owners.

Zimbabweans in search of food
Food queues have become common in Zimbabwe

Mr Mugabe used his sweeping powers to allow the government to authorise land occupation once the initial "acquisition notice" to farmers had been served.

Affected farmers have three months to vacate their farm houses.

The act said those who refused would be evicted by court order.

Many of the country's white-owned farms have been invaded in the past two years by veterans of the 1970s war of liberation, backing Mr Mugabe's programme.

Several white farmers and their black workers have been killed during these violent take-overs.

Zimbabwe is facing a food crisis caused by the invasions and drought.

Its once prosperous economy is in tatters and people have begun to die from starvation.

More than 5,000 farms out of an estimated 8,000 white-owned properties have been targeted for seizure by the state.

See also:

03 May 02 | Africa
Starvation strikes Zimbabwe
13 Mar 02 | Africa
Africa backs Mugabe win
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