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Landless Former Zimbabwe White Farmers Skeptical Over State Compensation Proposals

  • Arthur Chigoriwo

FILE: Some farmers seen at the height of the land invasions in Zimbabwe.

FILE: Some farmers seen at the height of the land invasions in Zimbabwe.

Some former white commercial farmers, who lost their land under Zimbabwe's controversial agrarian reforms introduced in 2000, have welcomed moves by the government to compensate them for farms, which were seized by the state.

However, several displaced farmers remain skeptical about the government's sincerity over the issue.

Some evicted white farmers relocated to urban areas while others resettled in Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and Britain, among several other nations.

They ventured into commercial farming and are said to be doing well in these countries. Zimbabwe refused to compensate them after forcibly taking over their land.

At least several farmers decided to take the matter to local and regional courts. They ended up being granted an order in South Africa to auction property belonging to the Zimbabwean government in an attempt to get some form of compensation.

The recent announcement by President Robert Mugabe's government that it intends to compensate the farmers for the seized land has been received mostly with skepticism by some of the farmers.

$8,6 BILLION FOR COMPENSATION

They say Zimbabwean leaders lack the political will to settle such matters and the capacity to mobilize financial resources to fund the exercise due to the depressed economy widely projected to grow by only 1,5 percent this year.

Independent evaluators estimate that Zimbabwe needs to pay the farmers $8,6 billion for seized assets such as houses and about $2,8 billion for the land. The ruling party leadership has vowed that Zimbabwe will never to compensate farmers for the land.

Former white commercial farmer, Jonny Rodriguez, who ventured into wildlife management after losing his land, says the government is too broke to pay any kind of compensation to the evicted farmers.

He says to make matters worse, it will be difficult to come up with agreed compensation figures as most farmers lost farm ownership documents when the state embarked on what he terms a chaotic land program.

Another former commercial farmer, Kerry Kay, believes that the government's move is an acknowledgement that the land reform scheme was disastrous.

PESSIMISTIC

Hendrik Oliver, chief executive of the Commercial Farmers Union, says his organization is pessimistic at this stage of the deal because there were no significant moves towards compensation by government in the last 16 years.

Olivier says the talk of compensation for seized land by high-ranking government officials, including Lands Minister Douglas Mombeshora, gives them a bit of hope and is looking forward to see some action on the part of state.

Like Rodriguez, Oliver says the government would struggle to raise funds for compensating the farmers.

He says Zimbabwe needs to speed up the process as some ageing destitute former white commercial farmers are struggling to make ends meet because they had invested everything on their farms.

The government is planning to introduce some taxes on occupied farms in an attempt to raise money for paying for the seized farms. The farmers hope that the latest moves by the government would finally settle the land disputes, resulting in the revival of the agricultural sector, which once contributed significantly towards Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product.

LAND SECURITY

Charles Taffs of African Farming Solutions says land can only be fully utilized in the near future if farmers are able to access bank loans using land as collateral.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are pressing Zimbabwe to pay its huge debts and have set conditions, including the compensation of white commercial farmers who lost their land, before opening new lines of credit for the nation.

Zimbabwe passed a law in 1992, which stipulated that only underutilized land would be expropriated with the government paying compensation for fixed assets on seized white-owned farms. At least 3,500 farmers lost their land under Zimbabwe’s controversial land reforms.

Zimbabwe was prevented by some provisions of the Lancaster House Agreement to take over white-owned commercial farms in the first 10 years of independence. The country settled for the willing-seller-willing buyer scheme, which saw some farmers refusing to part with vast tracks of land.

It then used the Land Acquisition Act of 1992 to seize their properties in order to fulfill one of its main objectives of the liberation struggle - giving land to the majority black population. But indications are that only a few black people linked to President Mugabe’s government benefited from the land reforms.

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