SADC leaders were opposed to the chaotic “revolutionary” land grabs by President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF-sponsored war veterans which displaced thousands of white commercial farmers and workers, preferring an orderly reform process, former South African president Thabo Mbeki has revealed.
Report by Brian Chitemba
Addressing delegates to the Zimbabwe Diamond Conference in Victoria Falls on Monday, Mbeki said Sadc leaders argued at length with Mugabe over the violent land seizures which were “strategically and tactically ill-advised”.
Sadc leaders, Mbeki said, wanted Zimbabwe to respect market-based compensation of land owners for improvements on the seized farms.
“We were convinced and argued this with President Mugabe that, rather, Zimbabwe should indeed confront the matter of the land question, but address it through a process of reform rather than through revolutionary means,” said Mbeki.
“We understood very well that the process of the reform rather than the revolutionary transformation of the inherited colonial system of land ownership meant the Zimbabwe government and people would have to respect the principle of market-based compensation of land owners for improvements on the farms they would have to forfeit.”
Mbeki said despite criticism of the land reform programme, fundamentally, it corrected the historical imbalance although the process remained questionable.
He also attacked the West for failing to provide funds to compensate white farmers even though it promised to do so in 1979 in London, and in 1998 in Harare. After the land reform chaos, Zimbabwe plunged into a basket case as the country’s new inexperienced and poorly-funded farmers failed to produce enough food.
Mbeki said regional leaders had hoped the agrarian reform would address food shortages, poverty and help foster economic recovery.
“This arose because of both our concern for the welfare of the sister people of this country and our knowledge of the level of regional integration, as a result of which our countries could not isolate themselves from important developments in this country and vice versa,” he said.
Mbeki emphasised the need to upgrade rural infrastructure, intensify agricultural extension services, provide the necessary credit lines to enable new farmers to access farming equipment, fertilisers and create ready markets for produce. Most new farmers are still struggling to produce a decade after getting the land while others own multiple farms contrary to government policy.