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The BBC's Paul Welsh
looks at the recent history of Zimbabwe's land ownership
 real 28k

Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 19:37 GMT 20:37 UK
Analysis: Could the land crisis spread?

By BBC News Online's Martin Asser

The crisis in Zimbabwe is rooted in the profound and unresolved imbalance of land ownership that was created before majority rule came to southern Africa.

As such it is a live issue not just in Zimbabwe.

There is a striking similarity between the situations in both Zimbabwe and South Africa, where black inhabitants were thrown off vast tracts of land, which were given to white settlers.

White farmers are not restricted to Zimbabwe
Other countries in the region have unresolved land issues, although to a lesser extent.

However, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is the only leader so far to have so explicitly used land to further his political ends.

It was as recently as 1890 that the first pioneer column entered what is now Zimbabwe, and within 10 years about 6.5 million hectares (16 million acres) had been taken from the indigenous population.

South Africa's greatest expropriation of black-owned land came in the 1913 Land Act which put the whole country into white hands, apart from some 13% of it, constituting the least productive areas, which was designated for black "homelands".

Mugabe has used land as a political card
Differences in the way Mr Mugabe has been treating the issue and South Africa's approach mean few have drawn a parallel between the two neighbours.

But a recent poll showed 54% of South Africans approved of the occupation of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe - a considerably higher level of support for the squatters than can be found in Zimbabwe itself.

Slow progress

This could reflect dissatisfaction in South Africa's system of processing claims through an inefficient land commission.

The issue is being dealt with in a much more equable way. Unlike in Zimbabwe the funds are available either for the current owners or the evicted families to receive compensation at market prices.

Zimbabwean veterans have been encouraged by Mugabe
But since it was set up 1994, the commission has moved at a snail's pace, only settling 4,000 of the 63,000 claims lodged by displaced blacks.

What white farmers fear in South Africa, is the threat of isolated farm occupations, which have already been threatened in some areas, if the land reform programme is not speeded up.

Welcome and unwelcome guests

Another variation of the land issue can be seen in Kenya, where an opposition MP recently called on the landless poor to take over foreign-owned farms.

There is not a political, black versus white, division in Kenya - most white land owners voluntarily gave up their land after independence.

Calls for farm occupations have come because the land did not go to the people who lost their land during colonial rule, but were rather sold cheap to foreign multinational concerns.

Many Kenyan coffee farms are foreign-owned
"Our fathers fought the white man in the 1950s so they could take over their land," the MP calling for occupations, Stephen Ndicho, said earlier this month. "But foreigners today continue to occupy large farms while our people remain landless."

Elsewhere, Mozambique has seen an influx of Afrikaner farmers, apparently fleeing black majority rule in South Africa, which has caused a stir in some circles.

Zambia, on the other hand, has welcomed the foreign commercial farmers who have bought land after independence.

"The difference is that there is plenty of good land in Zambia, which is not the case in Zimbabwe," the former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda said in a BBC interview this week. "(The white farmers) are most welcome."

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