WASHINGTON DC —
Zimbabwe’s former commercial white farmers who were dispossessed of their land, feel encouraged by the government’s commitment to compensate them, but not all black farmers are celebrating the news.
The country’s Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, reinforced his and the government’s commitment to compensate the white farmers, at a meeting in Harare, with former commercial farmers, resettled black farmers, NGOs and western ambassadors.
“I am committed and government is committed," Chinamasa said.
Compensating the white farmers is part of the obligation Zimbabwe has to meet to qualify for financial assistance from such lenders as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Chinamasa, however, said compensation will be largely dictated by the government’s ability to raise the money.
"I don't think we can start talking now about which way to go either left or right or forward unless we know the figure. Once we know the figure then I think that we then enter into the next round of discussions, which is, what are the modalities for payment,” Chinamasa told the gathering.
More than 3,500 white farmers are believed to have been kicked off their land when President Robert Mugabe authorized the land grabs, which many now attribute to the collapse of the country’s agricultural sector, turning Zimbabwe into an importer of even the most basic staple, as opposed to being the exporter it once was.
The land grabs, which in some cases turned violent, resulted in the death of several white farmers, and also their black farm workers, thousands of whom were also displaced.
Gilbert Lourie, who was evicted from his farm in 2002, says he’s encouraged by Chinamasa’s assurances. He said many white farmers felt dejected after losing their farms, as they were left with no legal recourse to protect their rights, or offers of compensation.
"I think today [Thursday, March 31st] is quite significant as for me it’s a start of a process here and l hope to see the outcome of this workshop."
Some of the various ways suggested by Minister Chinamasa for the government to raise money to compensate the farmers, include government issuance of treasury bills and the controversial imposition of a land levy, that would come from the farms now occupied by indigenous black Zimbabweans.
Not all black farmers have embraced Chinamasa’s call for them to be part of the source of funding to compensate the white farmers. Among the disgruntled is farmer Edward Tome, who said many farmers can barely make ends meet, let alone pay an extra levy.
"I have got a problem with that. This is akin to government disempowering its own people, because if you give back the land to the people, you don't tax the people in order to pay the thief who stole the land yesterday," said Tome.
All agricultural land in Zimbabwe is owned by the government and, at present, farmers have no legal claim on their farms - which they say has made banks reluctant to extend loans to buy fertilizers, seed and chemicals so they can raise output.
The government however has said it will imminently grant the leases. (Source -Reuters)