Zimbabwe has begun repossessing idle land from Black farmers who benefitted from controversial land reforms two decades ago, according to its Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka.
People whose farmland is lying unused and those who own multiple farms will lose land, he said on Wednesday. The plots will then be reallocated to aspiring farmers from a waiting list left from earlier rounds of land reform processes.
“Zimbabwe has a finite geographic space,” Masuka said. “We have allocated 99 percent of the land, and the land that I am currently allocating to those on the waiting list is land that I am taking from Blacks, allocating to Blacks.”
The government will not repossess productive farms, he added.
Speaking at the opening of annual tobacco auctions, Masuka said some repossessions had already occurred, but did not give details.
Former President Robert Mugabe launched land reforms in 2000, forcibly removing white farmers and giving their land to Black citizens.
The scheme was supposed to redress the legacies of British colonialism but in practice, many of Mugabe’s close allies ended up with multiple farms.
But many new farmers had little knowledge, training or support, and vast swathes of land became derelict.
Once renowned as a breadbasket, Zimbabwe now suffers from chronic food shortages, while a quarter of a million farmers are on the waiting list for land.
Masuka’s deputy, Vangelis Haritatos, told AFP that the government had also allowed former white commercial farmers to return to some farms through joint ventures.
“We don’t have a set criterion as government,” he said. “What we want is fairness for everyone.”
“We need to take our country to self-sufficiency, in food and nutrition,” Haritatos said.
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, some 10 million of Zimbabwe’s nearly 15 million people risk hunger by September after a poor rainy season.
The country has long depended on donors for basic food supplies.