Biti: Land reform program irreversible, calls for title deeds

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

IN a seismic shift for the opposition MDC’s position regarding the land reform programme, party deputy national chairman and former Finance Minister Tendai Biti late Wednesday, told students at the British Council in Harare that the expropriation of land without compensation was irreversible.

Biti, a fervent critics of the chaotic land grab sponsored by former President Robert Mugabe’s administration in which dozens lost their lives at the turn of the century, was speaking at a discussion under the topic: Cross Roads, Economic Reforms in Turbulent Times, What options do we have..

“The land reform programme is irreversible,” Biti said matter-of-factly.

“The land reform programme freed the supply of land and dealt with a distortion where less than six percent of the population owned 15 million of hectares  of land which was the best land in region one and region two.”

Mugabe and Zanu PF argued the land reform was meant to redress colonial land imbalances but critics including Biti argued it was a political campaign gimmick by the former liberation movement to buy time as its fortunes waned.

Biti however argued those who were allocated land needed to be given title.

“But the land reform programme can’t be an end in itself, we have to give title deeds to people that are on farms because as it stands now land is dead capital.

“An asset for it to have value it must both use value and exchange value, thats what constitutes a commodity,” the former Finance Minister said.

“Now in Zimbabwe we have got land, land only has use value, but it has no exchange value, therefore its dead capital.”

He queried how it was possible that ordinary Zimbabweans have had access to land for 20 years but are still poor.

Biti added: “In fact you want to make someone poor in Zimbabwe right now give them a farm.

“And the answer is simply it has got a use value, but no exchange value.”

The Harare East lawmaker said before the land reform programme most banks’ business in Zimbabwe was connected to agriculture.

“In 1999, before the land reform programme, 74 percent of bank lending use to go to agriculture and the biggest division of any bank in Zimbabwe was the agro-business they used to lend to the farming community.

“Nowadays the biggest asset that banks lend to are individuals, 25% and what do the individuals do, they buy flat screen televisions can an economy progress with people buying television it can’t,” said Biti.

Biti called for beneficiaries of the land reform programme to quit their jobs and enhance productivity in the sector.

Biti and other opposition leaders have been quoted in the media as having advocated for the return of land to white commercial farmers if Zimbabwe is to recapture its position as a major agricultural producer.