White former farmers dispossessed under the Zimbabwe government’s land redistribution would accept land instead of cash as compensation for their loss, a senior Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) official has said.
About 4,000 farmers were turfed off the land at the turn of the century as President Robert Mugabe’s government pursued what it said was a drive to address colonial land ownership imbalances.
The policy caused upheaval in the key agriculture sector, resulting in economic turmoil from which the country is yet to recover from. Zimbabwe was also isolated from its traditional western donors and investors as a result.
Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution acknowledges the need for the former farmers to be compensated, but for improvements only.
While the Mugabe administration undertook to make good on the compensation promise, even making some token payments, his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa appears to be making a bigger push on the matter.
Government has set aside $53 million (US$16 million) in the 2019 budget, a modest amount considering a total compensation bill which is estimated to be in the order of billions of US dollars.
But CFU director Ben Gilpin told the Zimbabwe Independent that some farmers would be willing to get some land back in lieu of 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?,” queried Gilpin, who says he lost a farm he purchased in 1987.
“I think there’s a great opportunity for government to embrace Zimbabwe citizens of competence on a non-discriminatory basis and say, if you are a farmer and we owe you money, let’s offset this by giving you access to the land.”
He, however, said a good number of the 3,500 farmers on record as eligible for compensation had aged and were no longer interested in farming.
“If you look at the age of farmers when they lost land, they were 55, some older. Most of the elderly are not interested, but parts of the younger generation are just looking for opportunities to farm,” Gilpin said.
“It has happened in other parts of the world. This is one way of dealing with it. It’s a win-win. If it can be done, why can’t it be one of a menu of options?”
A reported 860 farmers have signed up for the first round of compensation under the $53 million fund, which will benefit the most distressed.