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White Zimbabwean commercial farmers sold a raw deal: US report

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THOUSANDS of white commercial farmers who lost their land during Zimbabwe’s fast-track agrarian programme are still to receive compensation, two years after the government promised a US$3.5 billion windfall, a US embassy report has revealed.

BERNARD MPOFU

The US Embassy Human Rights Report for 2021 notes that the government has paid only US$1 million in token payments as partial compensation for losses suffered from the often violent land redistribution programme.

“The deal promised half of the payments after one year and the remainder over the course of the next four years. In June the government made a one-million-dollar token payment to commercial farmers but delayed additional compensation payments until 2022,” reads the report read by The NewsHawks.

In 2020 the government, the Commercial Farmers’ Union, and other farmer groups signed a US$3.5 billion compensation deal for farms expropriated in the decades following Independence. The deal promised half of the payments after one year and the remainder over the course of the next four years.

“Most commercial farmers reported the government had still not compensated them for losses suffered from the land resettlement programme in the early 2000s,” further reads the report.

The southern African nation has in the past admitted it had no money to pay off former commercial farmers. According to the “global compensation agreement”, the government had planned to issue long-term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding.

According to the constitution, the government must compensate persons for improvements made on land taken by the state, but it does not set a timeline for providing compensation. This loophole in the constitution could be manipulated to prolong the payment timeline, observers say.

“The government rarely provided restitution or compensation for the confiscation of private property, and police generally did not act against individuals who seized private property without having secured authorisation from the state to do so,” the US embassy notes.

Last month, Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped government deferred the payment of US$1.75 billion in compensation to the ex-farmers after failing to raise the required funds.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube says the government will make payments mid-year after missing the initial date, but officials insist there is no money to pay.

“Government has commenced payments under the Global Compensation Deed, while the interim target for making half of the US$3.5 billion total has been extended to July 2022,” the Finance minister said.

Initially, the government had set a target of June 2021.

At the turn of the millennium, Robert Mugabe’s government repossessed land from 500 white farmers and redistributed large tracts of land to nearly 300 000 indigenous Zimbabweans, arguing it was redressing colonial land ownership imbalances.

The agreement, signed in Harare, showed that white farmers would be compensated for infrastructure on the farms and not the land itself, in line with the national constitution.

Under the compensation agreement, the government made a commitment to re-pay ex-commercial farmers for improvements undertaken on the land before losing it under the land reform programme.

Last year, Treasury announced the appointment of United Kingdom-based Newstate Partners as financial advisers to the agreement with effect from April 2021.

According to Ncube, the financial advisers have already commenced work with the Joint Resource Mobilisation Committee supporting its capital-raising efforts.

Ncube then said the Newstate Partners had tabled funding options that include bonds issued domestically (both listed and unlisted), bonds issued into international markets (both listed and unlisted), and listed and unlisted equity and quasi type instruments.

The Commercial Farmers Union estimated there were fewer than 400 active white commercial farmers still living in the country.

They however remain a target for eviction.

The government, according to the report continued to allow individuals aligned with top officials to seize land not designated for acquisition and the media commonly cites high-level government officials possessing large farm holdings.

Government began a comprehensive land audit in 2018 to reflect land ownership accurately, but as of year’s end, the commission had not completed the exercise.

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