Evicted farmers in Zimbabwe to receive government compensation
The evictions were carried out under former president Mugabe’s land reform programme
Members of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association after invading a white-owned farm near Harare, in 2000. Photograph: Rob Cooper/AP Photo
About 1,000 white farmers from Zimbabwe who were forcibly evicted from their properties under former president Robert Mugabe’s chaotic land reform programme should start to receive government compensation this month.
President Emerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF government has set aside about US$17 million (€15.2 million) in its annual budget this year to cover the first instalment of reparations that will be paid to farmers subjected to land invasions under the former dictator’s regime.
Between 2000 and 2015 more than 4,000 white commercial farmers had their farmlands expropriated, without compensation, by mobs of Mugabe loyalists. The land was then redistributed to an estimated 300,000 poor black Zimbabweans, as well as to the country’s politically-connected elites.
In mid-April the government confirmed it was committed to finalising compensation to “all former farm owners who were affected by the land reform programme”, with the process of compiling the list of beneficiaries to be “completed by the end of April 2019”.
Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe director Ben Gilpin said this year’s payments are specifically aimed at elderly farmers who have become impoverished since losing their farms.
Mnangagwa’s government has also promised to compensate in full all of the farmers who were subjected to land invasions, but only for the improvements they made to the farmland, and the infrastructure they installed.
In an interview with the state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper in mid-April, Zimbabwe’s president said the government was not under pressure to pay farmers for the land they lost. “Our constitution bids us to pay for improvements on land. We do not pay for land because no one brought land to Zimbabwe. When we feel we do not have resources, no one compels us to do anything,” he said.
Compensating white farmers even for property upgrades and infrastructure has become controversial in Zimbabwe, as many people believe they should not get any money as the land was stolen in the first instance.
While he was in power Mugabe justified his agrarian reform policy by saying it was a way to address land ownership imbalances that were created by British colonialism. Under British rule much of Zimbabwe’s arable land was taken away from indigenous tribes and given to white settlers.
However, Zimbabwe’s government believes resolving the issue of compensation is key to rebuilding its relationships with western nations, which it needs to do to attract foreign investment and access the loans it needs to rebuild the economy.
With that in mind the government is understood to be in talks with international finance organisations about different options that would assist it to pay the farmers the full amount they are owed. But to complicate the matter, some white farmers are threatening to reject any offers they receive for upgrades, saying they purchased their farms legitimately from local landowners after independence was secured in 1980, and therefore they should be compensated for the land as well.
Gilpin told The Irish Times that about 1,000 elderly farmers in “financial distress” had been earmarked to receive amounts of between US$10,000 and US$12,000 per person this year.
“The government has agreed the money must go to as large a number of farmers as possible because many of them are now very old and have little or nothing to live on,” he explained.
Gilpin added: “Being farmers they have not been able to work properly in Zimbabwe since losing their land. They have become reliant on family and friends to survive and many of these people are now in their 70s and 80s.”
The farmers union facilitated the process of compiling the list of farmers who will get compensation, said Gilpin, and the sums paid out will be credited against the final amounts that each farmer gets once the government’s official land evaluation is completed.
A committee comprising government officials and former farm owners is currently valuing the improvements made to farms prior to the land grabs that resulted in the collapse of agriculture in Zimbabwe, one of the pillars of its economy.
The government has indicated this process should be finalised by the end of May. The final figure that is calculated is expected to be well over a billion dollars.
Gilpin concluded that although some critics of Mnangagwa’s regime see this year’s compensation allocation as a “sweetener” designed to get western lenders and investors to open their purse strings, the CFU is hopeful the development will lead to a final resolution of the compensation matter.
“We cannot say for sure that the government will set aside more money for this process next year, but it has indicted it wants to resolve this matter for good,” he said, before adding, “But to do this the government will need the international community to extend it lines of credit.”