The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) which is comprised of the largest group of white farmers evicted from farms under Zimbabwe’s controversial land-reform programme has welcomed the deal offered by government last week to give them land in lieu of compensation.
Zimbabwe made what appeared to be a climbdown from the land reform programme last week after gazetting a law to offer farms, as an alternative to compensation, to selected white farmers.
The cash-strapped government does not have adequate funds to pay the farmers for compensation and has resorted to offer land to break the two-decade impasse.
Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst decline in 10 years, with low production identified as one of the factors causing the slide.
The country now spends millions importing grain to feed its citizens, in a sign of some of the pitfalls of the violent land reform programme undertaken by the government of former president Robert Mugabe.
In an interview with Business Day, CFU director Ben Giplin said the new law mainly applies to white farmers protected by the bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement (Bippas).
“The measure will likely apply to a limited number of about 200 foreign citizens covered by ratified Bippas and possibly several hundred farmers who are classified as indigenous.
“We are aware that about 1,400 black farmers had purchased farms in the commercial sector and an estimated 300 were affected by the designation of farms,” Giplin said.
“The measures will not apply to the majority of Zimbabwean citizens whose farms were acquired by the state or foreign citizens who were not covered by ratified Bippas.”
In 2008 a Sadc tribunal ruled that Zimbabwe’s land reform had breached international treaties and ordered white farmers to return to the land but Mugabe refused to enforce the ruling.
Giplin said while some white farmers were eager to take up the new offer by government, others are old and would not be interested in going back to the land.
He noted that the new law provides considerable power to the minister and could be challenged on this grounds.
The white farmers are also concerned that the law does not make full provision for losses incurred.
Giplin, however, noted that if the new law is applied with impartiality, it will lead to a return of skilled farmers who will positively contribute to the country’s struggling agriculture sector.
“The restoration of property rights will certainly encourage fresh investment and will unlock financial support from the banking sector that has been frightened away because of a loss of collateral security. Let’s hope the measure helps firmly put Zimbabwe on the road to recovery.”
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the new law was not a reversal of the land reform programme but sought to protect Bippa agreements as well as other black farmers who also lost land.
Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri this month said government had started cutting farm sizes so that those with large farms that are being underutilised will be handed out to skilled farmers.
About 4,500 white-farmers have been evicted under Zimbabwe’s controversial land-reform programme, which has polarised opinion.
Supporters of the land grab exercise say it empowered landless blacks while its critics point to the collapse of production in the once thriving agriculture sector as well as the favouritism that saw top Zanu-PF officials being the big beneficiaries.