President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is offering land as compensation for farms seized from indigenous farmers as well as citizens of countries which have bilateral investment agreements with Zimbabwe, according to new regulations.
Former President Robert Mugabe led the charge as Zimbabwe took over some 5,000 farms,mostly from white farmers, in what the ZANU-PF government said was a drive to redress colonial land imbalances.
The land redistribution policy alienated Zimbabwe from its traditional western donors and disrupted commercial agriculture, sending the economy deep into recession.
However, the government has, since the adoption of the new Constitution in 2013, acknowledged the need to compensate farmers, but only for the loss of assets other than land.
Last year, the government paid Z$68 million to some of the former farmers. This year’s budget has a Z$380 million provision for compensation, a far cry from the nearly US$7 billion the farmers reportedly want for assets alone.
In terms of regulations published by Agriculture Minister Perrance Shiri, the government now seeks to offer land as compensation to some of the farmers.
“The object of the regulations is to provide for the disposal of land to persons referred to in section 4, who are, in terms of section 295 of the Constitution, entitled to compensation for acquisition of previously compulsorily acquired land,” read a notice issued by the Ministry.
Apart from some black farmers who had their farms acquired by the government, the compensation scheme also targets farmers who are citizens of countries which have bilateral investment agreements with Zimbabwe.
These countries include the United Kingdom, South Africa, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland, all which had significant numbers of farmers operating in Zimbabwe.
In 2015, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, which is part of the World Bank group, ordered Zimbabwe to pay US$196 million compensation to a Swiss-German family whose farm had been seized by the government. Zimbabwe lost a bid to have the compensation award annulled in 2018.
Although the exact number of farms under this category could not be immediately established, figures from the former farmers’ compensation steering committee show that a total of 5,454 farms were taken over by the government since 2000, with 4,676 of these not being covered under any bilateral investment treaty. This suggests that close to 800 farms would be covered by the land compensation scheme.
The Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) has said a good number of its members who lost their farms would take land as compensation.
“To pay me, government has to take money from taxpayers. Wouldn’t it be ok that, instead of excluding me from farming, you give me a land lease where I pay money to the state to meet its obligation?,” CFU director Ben Gilpin, queried in an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent last May.
Zimbabwe’s government is still in talks with the rest of the farmers who are the country’s citizens, on compensation for the loss of their farms.
Apart from the need to comply with the Constitution, the Mnangagwa administration has prioritised compensation of the dispossessed farmers, especially those whose investments were protected by various bilateral treaties, as part of its hitherto futile efforts to re-engage with the west.