Zimbabwe’s white farmers will get compensation—but they’re not getting land back

A farm owner, looks at his cattle in Dormervale farm east of Harare, Zimbabwe
A farm owner, looks at his cattle in Dormervale farm east of Harare, Zimbabwe
Image: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Harare, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe wants to address the chaotic and violent manner in which it took away land from local white farmers nearly 20 years later as new president Emmerson Mnangagwa bids to reassure investors his administration is restoring respect for property rights and investment protection.

The agrarian reform, presided over by president Robert Mugabe in 2000, displaced the mostly white commercial farmers without compensation. Mugabe said the policy was earmarked at putting productive land into the hands of black Zimbabweans although most of them were inexperienced and poorly resourced, leading to a fall in agricultural production and leaving the country a net importer of staple maize grain between 2000 and 2016.

More than 4,000 white commercial farms were displaced and their land designated for resettlement of black farmers and reports say about five white farmers were killed as the process turned violent.

The opposition, Movement for Democratic Change, this week criticized the violent takeover of white-owned farms under the “haphazard” land reform policy for its “uncoordinated trajectory”.  MDC also slammed top members of ruling top Zanu PF for “selfishly and corruptly” awarding themselves huge tracts of arable farm land which they couldn’t manage.

Mugabe’s decision to pursue white Zimbabwean farmers under the sensitive banner issue of land reform was a key turning point in his 37-year rule and put the nail in the coffin for his relationship with former colonial power Britain and other western countries. Many white commercial farmers, responsible for large chunks of the agriculture-led economy, fled the country, some feared for their lives. The fallout cost Zimbabwe international economic partners and investors also departed as the economy spiraled out of control.

Mnangagwa had already during his inauguration speech that the land reform policy will not be reversed but also made assurances that his administration will seek to champion property rights. Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said this week the government will open dialogue with affected commercial farmers to make “appropriate compensation”.

Chris Mutsvangwa, the information minister said the government is investigating illegal farm take-overs.

Resettled farmer harvests maize near Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, –
Resettled farmer harvests maize near Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, –
Image: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe is desperate to drum up growth in the agriculture sector which has suffered collapse under Mugabe. Economists in Zimbabwe say the new policy to compensate farmers is aimed at drumming up economic support from the international community through correction to bad policy implementation. Mnangagwa has all but scrapped the indigenization policy that sought to put the control of foreign firms in the hands of black Zimbabwean groups although platinum and diamond miners will still be required to cede majority shares to local groups.

“Land that was taken away has to be compensated and this is something that the government has neglected over the past years. It is time to show goodwill and to express a reformist attitude for the new administration,” said Zimbabwe economist Moses Moyo.

Although the black farmers were resettled on prime commercial land, production has nose-dived and Chinamasa will seek to address this through ensuring that land is in the hands of those who are able to utilise it. Zimbabwe has premised its 3% economic growth prospects for this year on growth in the agriculture sector and is also punting a 4.5% economic growth projection for 2018 on the sector, alongside expected recovery in mining output.

“Beneficiaries of the Land Reform Programme are required to fully utilize the land and improve on productivity. Idle land represents dead capital and promotes speculative tendencies, if not checked on the part of the land holders,” added Chinamasa.