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Friday, November 20, 1998 Published at 18:43 GMT

World: Africa

Zimbabwe to seize white-owned land

Minority whites still own bulk of fertile land

The Zimbabwean Government has confirmed it is pushing ahead with plans to take over hundreds of large-scale white-owned farms in a move which has caused near panic among many farmers.

Joseph Winter reports from Harare on the farmers' reactions
The plans to redistribute the farmland to landless black peasants have been characterised by confusion and delay since the second stage of the process was begun nearly a year ago.

But the confusion turned to shock among the white farming community when, earlier this week, nearly 850 landowners began to receive letters from the government informing them that their farms had been acquired by the state.

Many feared that they could be ordered to leave their land within weeks.

Move to allay fears

The Deputy Agriculture Minister, Olivia Muchena, has now tried to allay the worst fears of the farmers, saying an appeals process would be observed and that farmers should continue to plant crops.

She told a news conference in Harare that the letters were merely a technicality issued to prevent the year long process going back to square one.

"The government is not grabbing the land as we are operating within the framework we have agreed on under consultation," she said.

Had the letters not been issued, the minister said, the government would have been forced to begin the whole land programme anew.

She said the authorities would act in a fair and transparent manner and that the legal processes would be followed.

Leaders of the white commercial farmers who own the majority of Zimbabwe's most fertile land said they were, to some extent, reassured by the deputy minister's comments.

The President of the Farmers' Union, Nick Swanopoel, urged his colleagues to continue working the land while discussions with ministers continued.

The government also said those villagers who had invaded and illegally occupied some farms around the capital Harare in the past fortnight must get off the land by Monday or face prosecution.

The squatters moved in after complaining that the land reform programme was taking too long.

"They must go back home. Government will not allow anybody to resettle themselves, not only here, but anywhere else," said the chairman of the government land acquisition committee, Joseph Msika.

But our correspondent says the government's failure to consult the farmers or potential international donors, without whom the whole land redistribution programme is unlikely to succeed, has undermined confidence in an already shaky economy.

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