Chaotic land reform strains diplomatic ties

Augustine Mukaro

ZIMBABWE’S chaotic land reform programme has strained relations with Western countries and South Africa as their nationals lose farms protected under bilateral trade agreements.
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The country has Bilateral Investment Promotion Protection Agreements (Bippa) with several European Union countries, four of them ratified by President Robert Mugabe.


Diplomats based in Harare this week said government’s failure to observe the agreements had stretched relations to a point where displaced farmers were having recourse to international courts.


Dutch farmers have taken their case to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington DC.


Netherlands Embassy first secretary Lily Talapessy confirmed that her nationals were putting up a case against the Zimbabwe government.


“It is true that the displaced farmers are appealing to the ICSID based in Washington but I can’t give details of the status of the case at the moment,” Talapessy said.


She said the majority of the Dutch farmers in the country had lost their properties in the ongoing land reform programme.


“We have about 1 000 Dutch nationals in Zimbabwe, 70 of them farmers all growing flowers and falling under a ratified Bippa, which came into force in 1996,” Talapessy said. “The majority of our farmers have lost their properties and some are still under threat.”


Talapessy confirmed that her government had been making representations to government to mitigate the seizure of the farms.


“Since 2000 the embassy has used all diplomatic channels and we are also in contact with influential people to protect the investments,” she said.


An investigation by the Zimbabwe Independent has revealed that farmers from several Western countries lost properties under the often-chaotic land reform programme. Their embassies have also made representations to the government in efforts to save their investments.


The Swiss embassy has made representations to the Foreign Affairs ministry following the invasion of Cannonkopje Conservancy in Mutorashanga, Mashonaland West.


“The embassy engaged Foreign Affairs permanent secretary ambassador Joy Bimha and other officials in the ministry but the situation on the ground has not changed,” an official at the embassy said.


“We also approached Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo in his capacity as the MP for the area.”


Cannonkopje Conservancy, owned by Rolf Hangartner, was reportedly acquired by Dr Charles Nherera, vice-chancellor of Chinhoyi University and chairman of Zupco.


The worst affected country is South Africa which had over 200 farmers situated throughout the country. The farmers have made numerous representations to their government without success. In June South African Foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was quoted in the media as saying farms owned by South Africans were secure.


Expropriation of properties owned by South Africans has however continued in the south-eastern Lowveld where sugar estates are under threat.


Farmers who spoke to the Independent said government had completely ignored the agreements prompting the concerned nationals to appeal for diplomatic intervention.


“My property is protected under the Dutch agreement, and the embassy has made representations at various levels in vain,” said a farmer in Masvingo whose farm is threatened.


Farms falling under Bippa protection and specifically the Dutch agreement include Chibaro Farm in Mashonaland West and Chikore Farm in Masvingo. Foreign Affairs minister Stan Mudenge is occupying part of Chikore Farm.