Govt expedites compensation of dispossessed farmers

as former farmers table $10 bln claim

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PHILLIMON MHLANGA

Government is expediting the initiative to compensate white former commercial farmers who lost land at the height of the land reform exercise as it seeks to restore relations with international lenders and the Western countries.

The white former commercial farmers have tabled a $10 billion compensation claim before President Emmerson Mnangagwa for assets expropriated during the chaotic land redistribution programme as they seek redress from government, Ben Gilpin, a director of the white-dominated Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe told Business
Times yesterday.

The compensation figure includes land, which the farmers valued using regional rates, as well as fixed assets. The compensation bill for fixed assets under the claim is understood to be about $5,5 billion. Most assets do not exist anymore as they were burnt down during the violent land distribution programme. This puts the value of land at $4,5 billion.

Last week, Finance and Economic Development Minister, Mthuli Ncube, admitted that the compensation issue was a hot potato. He revealed that the cash-strapped government will complete farms valuation for .white former farmers by the end of next month and is likely to start paying compensations by June this year, nearly 20 years after their farms were expropriated by government.

Well-placed sources at CFUZ told Business Times this week that  the bulk of the 4000 farmers favoured a local resolution to the problem, while at least 20 farmers wanted international arbitration through the Court of International Arbitration in Singapore.
Government had previously maintained that farmers would not be compensated since the land had been stolen from the majority during the colonial rule.

Ncube said government has come up with a figure, which it wants to compensate the ex-farmers although he could not be drawn into revealing the amount.

“They have a figure that they want to be compensated. And we have a figure, which I can’t reveal now. We have done (valuations) all other provinces except Mashonaland East. We should conclude valuation by March, then we start negotiating with the farmers. By June, we should be done.”

Government embarked on a fast track land reform exercise in 2000 to address historical imbalances. The executed swiftly and ruthlessly, courting international criticism and plunging the country into its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980. The State-backed farm invasions triggered sanctions from the Western countries, a development which compounded Zimbabwe’s economic woes.

This resulted in international financial institutions such as the international Monetary Fund, which many international lenders take a cue from, the World Bank and the African Development Bank to freeze financing after the country defaulted on debt repayments.

Under increasing pressure to woo back international  lenders and donors, government has begun the process to compensate white former commercial farmers

According to Section 16 (a) and (b) of the country’s Land Acquisition Act, which was last amended in 2006, government is required to pay fair compensation to any person who suffered loss or deprivation of rights as a result of expropriation of land within a reasonable time.

All expropriated farmland in Zimbabwe is now owned by the State, meaning that present occupants have no legal claim on farms. None of them have any form of title, meaning the land cannot be used as collateral. This has made banks reluctant to extend loans to the
new farmers to buy inputs, leaving the country struggling to feed itself.

Some of the evicted white farmers are now farming in Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Nigeria while others migrated to Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

Ironically, Zimbabwe has been importing maize meal, except during last season, from the white former farmers now farming in these countries.

In the absence of tittle deeds, government has struggled to transfer ownership of the land to the new settlers, a situation that has frustrated its plans to issue 99 year leases that are tradable and bankable.