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Harare Backs Down on Nationalization of Foreign-Owned Farmland

The Zimbabwean government has backtracked on whether foreign-owned agricultural properties fall within the scope of a 2005 constitutional amendment that nationalized all farmland, yielding to pressure from South Africa, the Netherlands and Germany.

Since 2000, Harare had refused to enforce the bilateral investment agreements that it had earlier signed with a number of countries. BUt Security Minister Didymus Mutasa – who is also responsible for land reform and resettlement – informed Harare-based diplomats of the shift today at a Foreign Ministry briefing on land reform.

Mutasa confirmed that he had met with diplomats and taken up property rights, but he declined in an interview to offer further details. But state media said Mutasa reassured the diplomats that foreign owners of farms were entitled to appeal land seizures in the courts - unlike Zimbabweans who have no legal recourse to state seizures.

Harare has also set up a committee to assist foreign owners. It includes officials from the Foreign Affairs, Land and Finance ministries, the Central Bank and the Zimbabwe Investment Center. Diplomatic sources said South African President Thabo Mbeki prevailed upon President Robert Mugabe to uphold the agreements.

The largest group of foreigners affected comprised 200 South African owners, while 60 displaced agricultural property owners based in the Netherlands farmers filed an appeal with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Yet Wednesday’s announcement could generate turmoil in the ruling party, though, as many ministers and other senior government and party officials have claimed farmland seized from foreign owners. Such new property owners include presidential nephew Gabriel Mugabe, and Minister of Higher Education Stan Mudenge.

For perspective on Harare’s climbdown over foreign property rights, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with economist James Jowa.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...