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Tuesday 14 May 2019

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Ben Gilpin from Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union

The first allocation of funds availed by the Zimbabwe government to compensate some of the commercial white farmers displaced during the 2000 land invasions, may be in the accounts of many, by the end of May, said Ben Gilpin, director of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe (CFU).

“We anticipate within the next week, certainly before the end of the month,” said Gilpin.

About 860-white farmers have applied for compensation, but only a handful of those considered to be in “financial distress,” will get first preference of the annual RTGS$53-million, the local Zimbabwe currency, allocated for compensation.

The government of Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced last month that it had started the registration process for the displaced white farmers, to compensate them for the improvements made to the land, but not the land itself. Gilpin applauded the government for keeping its word.

“Certainly we are grateful that the dialogue has been positive and certainly the movement with regard this interim relief is certainly positive and well received, but it’s a very small part of a bigger picture,” said Gilpin. “Government itself has made a commitment to going back to when the president was inaugurated first, and secondly when he was re-inaugurated, he made a commitment to get this done quickly,” he added.

The government said it was following through on its commitment to compensate white farmers in adherence to the country’s constitution, but also in response to pressure from western governments as a condition to normalize relations, that could include the lifting of sanctions.

The issue of compensation has however been controversial, and has drawn criticism from some Zimbabweans who argue that compensation is a reversal on government’s commitment to empower blacks.

While many of the estimated 4,000 white farmers who were forced off their land left the country and started new lives elsewhere, of those who remained, many still want to farm, and Gilpin said if land was made available, many would return to farming and help rebuild the economy.

“Certainly there’s a lot of underutilized land in the country and it would make a lot of sense if there’s an aim of getting the country back, functional and getting the economy going, that those that are interested, regardless of race, and have got skills, should be able to get access to land and use it productively,” Gilpin.

Though some of the farmers welcome the opportunity to return to farming, reports of fresh invasions on various white owned farms, have revived fears of the violence that occurred during 2000 land invasions.

Zimbabwe White Farmers to Start Getting Compensation Funds Soon, Says Representative
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Zimbabweans Air Their Anger Amid Economic Meltdown
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Pro-government statements are the norm in Chinhoyi, the hometown of former president Robert Mugabe. But that was not the case at a public meeting Saturday, as Zimbabweans grappling with poverty amid the flailing economy are using every chance they can to voice to their anger.

Doug Taylor Freeme, a former leader of the predominantly white Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, was among those who spoke.

"When the president came into power, he made an appeal: 'Please, can all those financial institutions come into Zimbabwe and bring investment here.' … Our president has no need for him to be traveling all over the world looking for the money. It's here. We just need the right documentation so that we can put the right security in place and I can promise, overnight, there will be a huge change," Freeme said.

Doug Taylor Freeme, a former leader of the predominantly white Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, spoke at a public meeting in Chinhoyi town, Zimbabwe, May 10, 2019.
Doug Taylor Freeme, a former leader of the predominantly white Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, spoke at a public meeting in Chinhoyi town, Zimbabwe, May 10, 2019.

When he speaks of documentation, Freeme is talking about giving farmers the legal right to their land. Most white commercial farmers were pushed off their land in the early 2000s by the government and replaced by black peasant farmers.

Those new farmers have no guarantee they will be allowed to stay, and no collateral to use to borrow money from banks. Without those, Freeme argues, the farms cannot be productive.

Even blacks who benefited from the land reforms, like tobacco farmer Ronnie Masango, say unless the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe addresses chronic shortages of cash and finds a way to preserve the value of the local currency, the bondnote, the southern African country's economy will not recover.

Ronnie Masango, who grows tobacco, spoke at the public meeting in Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, May 10, 2019.
Ronnie Masango, who grows tobacco, spoke at the public meeting in Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, May 10, 2019.

"I hear people keep on saying parallel market, parallel market" he said, referring to a black market. "Where is that money coming from? At the banks, I cannot access my money. But in the streets I see people using cash. ... We want cash in the banks. Not in the streets. So you will soon see commotion in the streets since the traders show off. Parallel market is the source of our economic problems. That is where corruption starts."

Ziyambi Ziyambi, Zimbabwe's justice minister, says only patience will help as the country goes through what President Emmerson Mnangagwa calls "austerity for prosperity" measures to reverse years of recession under former president Mugabe.

Ziyambi Ziyambi, Zimbabwe’s justice minister, speaks at a public meeting in Chinhoyi town, May 10, 2019.
Ziyambi Ziyambi, Zimbabwe’s justice minister, speaks at a public meeting in Chinhoyi town, May 10, 2019.

"To be fair to the reserve bank, the reserve bank does not create a parallel market. A parallel market, or black market, is caused by shortages," Ziyambi said. "So what we are coming up is austerity measures. The moment we have a scenario where our production increases, we kill the parallel market. We have to acknowledge [that] we had 20 years or so where there was no development."

It remains to be seen if the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe can assure citizens that the economy will stabilize, but the opposition has indicated more protests will materialize unless the situation improves.

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