AfricaInternational

ZIMBABWE UNABLE TO PAY BILLIONS TO FORMER WHITE COMMERCIAL FARMERS – OFFERS LAND INSTEAD

By Fazila Mahomed

Hardly a month after pledging to pay former white commercial farmers US$3.5-billion compensation for land improvements done before farm seizures in the 2000s under the late President Robert Mugabe, authorities in the troubled southern African state are now offering land in lieu of the reparations.

The Zimbabwe government has offered long-term bonds to help raise the money and also “anticipate donor funding” to fulfil this mammoth sovereign debt amid a crippling economic crisis, alleged human rights abuses and a highly polarised political space.

At the centre of this thorny subject is Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution which provides for two types of farmers that can be compensated for both land and improvements on farms. The farmers include, “indigenous” Zimbabweans, or black farmers and farmers whose land was protected by Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (BIPPAs).

BIPPAs are agreements between countries designed to protect the investments of foreign citizens. Zimbabwe has 12 such agreements with countries such as South Africa, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and Switzerland, among others.

The government of Zimbabwe extended the offer to compensate using land only to these two groups of farmers thereby leaving out local white farmers because they are covered by the US$3.5-billion compensation deal signed in July under the Global Compensation Deed (GCD).

The subject of compensation for expropriation has sparked a heated and wide-ranging debate among political parties, citizens and other stakeholders. The land question was at the centre of Zimbabwe’s protracted liberation struggle led by the nationalist movements like ZANU PF and PF ZAPU through their respective military wings, leading to independence in 1980.

Addressing the press in Harare, leader of the War Veterans, Amos Sigauke, said:

“People will not support our cause if they know we are now giving land back to white people. This is a sell-out agreement, reversing what cannot be reversed.”

“We were not consulted, neither were the spirit mediums who own the land, traditional chiefs and Members of Parliament. The question is who needs compensation first, a dispossessed black person or a white former settler?” asked Sigauke

Opposition MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere told Daily Maverick:

“We acknowledge the land reform programme as a necessary correction of colonial injustices and note that the approach used to address historical imbalances was not the most desirable, as evidenced over the past 20 years.”

“The GCD has been concluded without the participation of Parliament and key stakeholders, in breach of our Constitution and the rule of law, in particular section 295(4), which requires that any compensation for previously acquired agricultural land must be assessed and paid in terms of an Act of Parliament.”

Ruling ZANU PF acting spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa told Daily Maverick:

“Land reform in Zimbabwe is irreversible and as such the MDC and their cohorts should not try to lecture us on the land issue.”

“We started the land redistribution programme because Tony Blair’s administration chose to ignore our agreements with the former colonial powers on an amicable way of settling the land question. Rather they went to create the MDC, with the assistance of the Westminster Foundation,” said Chinamasa.

In March, the Land Commission gazetted Land Disposal in Lieu of Compensation Regulations (SI 62 of 2020) which provided for these farmers to apply “for restoration of title to the piece of agricultural land that was compulsorily acquired from them for resettlement”.

With a shared vision, Zimbabwe can overcome the economic crisis that has troubled it since Mugabe’s time, but there is no trust among citizens in terms of genuine political freedoms and economic reforms.

MDC Alliance Vice President Tendai Biti, who is also a constitutional lawyer, told Daily Maverick:

“Government has been giving land using the 99-year leases. We don’t need new laws, but the government has put a new statutory instrument 62 which says those whom we took land from, we will return them to their old farms. Now that’s different from giving someone an offer letter. This is a reversal of the land reform programme.”

Following the so-called “fast-track land reform” in the 2000s under Mugabe, disgruntled former white commercial farmers took their cases to International Tribunals and won. Authorities have since acknowledged the farmers’ victories, saying it needs to “respect the rule of law, property rights and the Constitution”. 

Daily Maverick spoke to Andy Pascoe, President of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) in Zimbabwe.

“I think going forward, hopefully once we get the conflict removed from the land, I’m sure there will be opportunity for all Zimbabweans who desire to be farmers to access land.” 

On compensation with land, “a very small minority are eligible to be compensated with land or have the land returned to them, particularly farmers protected by BIPPAs or black farmers who are considered indigenous who lost their land”, said Pascoe.

“The bulk of farmers who are white are not considered according to the land act. We are only entitled for improvements that were on the farm at the time it was acquired so that’s according to our constitution”, said the CFU Zimbabwe President. 

While addressing the press on Monday, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Mtuli Ncube said “returning land to foreign white farmers through the Global Compensation Deed is a major milestone in the restoration of trust and co-operation between former farm owners and the government”.

Economist Godfrey Kanyenze told Daily Maverick that the goverment did not have the money;

“This is US$3.5-billion and we already have a debt over-hand of slightly more than $8-billion, 73 percent of which is in arrears, so we are already failing to pay our external debt.”

Kanyenze said the Zimbabwean government doesn’t have the “fiscal legroom” that other countries have nor “the ability to access all lines of credit”. 

“It’s going to be a tall order because the government is having trouble meeting a lot of obligations of salaries with civil servants and health workers on strike,” said Kanyenze. 

With a shared vision, Zimbabwe can overcome the economic crisis that has troubled it since Mugabe’s time, but there is no trust among citizens in terms of genuine political freedoms and economic reforms.

Allegations of abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings have alienated the citizens from one another along political lines, but the government claims the opposition is allegedly working with foreigners to destabilise the country. NW

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