Ex-farm owners in forgery storm

…govt cries foul over ‘double-dipping’

(Last Updated On: January 19, 2023)

LIVINGSTONE MARUFU

 

Government has engaged in a strict verification exercise to flush out dubious former farm owners amid reports that a number of ex-farmers are forging documents to qualify for compensation for loss of land protected by the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (BIPPAs), Business Times heard this week.

The forgery storm, the government says, has delayed the return of the land to the former farm owners.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade deputy minister David Musabayana told Business Times that the government was undertaking a verification exercise so that land is returned to deserving former owners.

“But there were some farmers who were taking advantage as some were registering citizenship for those countries under BIPPA with others backdating the citizenship,” Musayabayana said.

“In other instances, you could see some having a wife who is in a country under BIPPAs and the husband from another country not protected by BIPPAs. So there was a lot of confusion and that delayed the process. Some farmers created claims where there were no claims,” Musabayana said.

He said South African farmers had sued the government through the Tribunal but the Jacob Zuma-led administration blocked the processes so that no decision would be made.

The former farm owners sued their government for interference.

“We returned the favour to the South African government with GPA [Global Compensation Agreement] where they realised that farmers who sued their government were on the list here. We used the Global Compensation Deed to block double dipping. Whoever should benefit should go through the compensation deed,” Musabayana said.

Under section 72 of the Constitution, Zimbabwe  committed to returning the land under BIPPAs and that owned  by indigenous people who have title deeds.

The return of the land under BIPPAs is expected to thaw frosty relations between Harare and western capitals after the former disregarded existing agreements.

The government has regularised that return of the land and aligned the Constitution by saying whoever was dispossessed of their land during the land reform programme but with title deeds are going to be given their land back or given alternative land.

That land is given back to its original holders.

The government will carry out an assessment to expedite the processes.

“If the land under BIPPAs was not occupied, they can be given back the occupation and there is an option for compensation,” Musabayana said.

The return of the seized land protected under BIPPAs comes as Brussels has been pressing Harare to respect the agreements.

Former European Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, told Business Times recently that Zimbabwe has to honour these agreements to show that it is serious in “respecting the property rights, rule of law and Constitution”.

He said the government should act quickly to honour BIPPA agreements to attract investment into the country.

In 2020, Zimbabwe agreed to pay US$3.5bn in compensation to former commercial white farmers whose land was taken by the government to resettle black farmers.

Some critics said the government lacked credibility and goodwill.

Indigenous farmers who have been occupying the land for years will likely resist eviction.

“Those A2 farmers have been there for the past 20 years and it is going to be difficult to remove them with some even burying their loved ones there,” a farmer organisation group said.

Musabayana said the government will offer an alternative land if that happens.

Zimbabwe has lost several lawsuits brought against it at international tribunals.

In 2012, the government revoked offer letters for 55 resettled farmers allocated land at Tavydale Farm in Mazowe district. Farmers who had occupied 70 hectares were evicted.

In 2013, Herbert Murerwa, then lands minister, said the government had to revoke offer letters given to resettled farmers on BIPPA land as the lawsuits were a huge burden on the country.

“Government will abide by the provisions of the agreement and at the same time we do not want to increase our liability,” he said then.

About 40 Dutch farmers, whose properties were protected under BIPPA, were awarded a total of US$25m by an international tribunal in April 2009.

In September 2017, the government withdrew 64 offer letters covering nearly 10 000 hectares of plantation land, all under BIPPAs, in Manicaland.

Resettled farmers, among them senior Zanu PF officials, had to vacate land they had occupied in the Lowveld in 2016.

The government withdrew offer letters for land owned by Tongaat Hulett, protected under BIPPA.

There were similar evictions in 2014 from conservancies in the Save Valley, where senior Zanu PF officials had helped themselves to 25-year leases on BIPPA-protected properties.

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