Diplomats petition govt on property seizures

Augustine Mukaro

EUROPEAN Union diplomats whose nationals have lost properties due to the land reform programme have petitioned President Robert Mugabe and Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono to urgently resol

ve the problem.


Highly-placed sources in the agricultural sector said diplomats had forwarded a list of properties they want delisted and to have invaders evicted.


“Diplomats in conjunction with the Commercial Farmers Union have written to government to urgently delist some properties, especially those protected under Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (Bippa),” one farmer said.


This development comes at a time when one of the country’s biggest mixed cropping ventures, Highbury Estate in Mashonaland West, is reportedly under siege from ruling Zanu PF chefs.


Highbury Estate is protected under a Zimbabwe/Belgian Bippa and has been producing wheat, tobacco, maize, citrus and cattle. The estate is owned by Zimcor Ltd, a subsidiary of Conafex SA. Conafex is listed on the London, Luxemburg and South African stock exchanges. It is one of the largest mixed crops/cattle estates still left in private hands.


Zimbabwe has Bippas with several European Union countries, four of them ratified by President Robert Mugabe. The agreements bind Zimbabwe to protect the investments and properties of other countries from arbitrary expropriation. Government has generally reneged on these agreements resulting in strained relations with a number of important states.


The worst affected country is South Africa which had over 200 farmers across the country. Most of them have lost their properties since the government embarked on the controversial land reform programme in 2000. 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.


Government has also ignored a report by Special Affairs minister for Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement John Nkomo, urging the state to avoid seizing land protected by international accords.


Five plantations owned by Border Timbers, the country’s largest timber producer, have been acquired. Borders Timbers’ land seized by the state includes Tilbury, Cambridge, Imbeza, Mahugara and Walmer estates.


The company’s sawmills process more than 35 million logs each year, and it also runs a veneer factory.


The seizure of the land is in violation of an agreement between Zimbabwe and Germany. The German-Zimbabwe Bippa was signed in 1995 by representatives of both governments to protect Border Timbers’ properties and assets from expropriation.


Zimbabwe gave assurances to Germany that Border Timbers’ land would not be targeted for seizure.


In addition to the timber plantations, the government has also taken over Aberfoyle Estates, a major tea exporter, and Eastern Highlands Plantations, one of Zimbabwe’s few producers of washed Arabic coffee.