Whites Criticize Land Reform In Zimbabwe

LIKE water, the finite resource of land is highly politicized.

Whites -- who number at most 100,000 compared with 10 million blacks -- dominate the agriculture-based economy, a legacy of British colonial rule until 1960. Today, some 4,500 white farmers own more than 70 percent of Zimbabwe's most fertile land -- with 7 million black farmers involved in mainly subsistence farming.

The government has passed laws allowing it to expropriate commercial farmland to resettle at least 160,000 landless peasants. White farmers and the World Bank say the land reforms have been largely unproductive because restricted tenure and lack of capital prevent most black owners from doing more than subsistence farming.

But government officials -- who regularly indulge in white-bashing as an electoral rhetorical tool -- have accused whites critical of the program of being racists.

Peter MacSporran, president of the Commercial Farmers' Union, said his organization felt the compensation paid was adequate, but objected to the arbitrary and political nature of handouts.

''Land means votes. Resettlement has been a complete failure, it has to be reviewed. It hurts productivity,'' he said.

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