THOUSANDS of farmers, including ruling party Zanu PF bigwigs who benefitted from the country’s chaotic fast-track land reform which started in 2000, risk losing their land after government announced plans to introduce an annual land tax of US$5 per hectare for A2 farmers and US$15 per hectare for A1 farmers, something which could see those with large farms paying between US$5 000 and us$15 000 per annum.
While the elite might be able to pay, the poor will almost certainly lose their land in a move which could reduce the disastrous land reform programme to a mere farce.
Lands and Rural Resettlement minister Douglas Mombeshora announced government would begin taxing the new farmers including those who were allocated land in wildlife conservancies while addressing the Masvingo Provincial Lands Committee two weeks ago. He warned that those who failed to pay up could lose their farms.
The tax is part of desperate measures by the cash-strapped government to raise funds to compensate more than 6 000 mainly white farmers who lost their land when government expropriated it, with the stated objective of redistributing it to black Zimbabweans disadvantaged by 90 years of colonial rule.
According to Zanu PF, 10,8 million hectares have so far been acquired under the fast track phase of the land reform since July 2000, and of these 6, 1 million hectares went to A2 commercial farms.
A1 small-scale farmers have been resettled on 4,6 million hectares. The land was acquired from 6 214 farmers and of these, only 210 have been paid, “either fully or partially for improvements” they made on the land.
The government hopes to raise about US$100 million per year from the farms, excluding wildlife conservancies — US$30,5 million from A2 farmers on 6,1 million ha and US$67,5 million from A1 farmers on 4,6 million ha.
According to the new regulations, commercial A2 farmers will pay US$3 annually per hectare and US$2 per hectare as unit tax to bring the total amount to US$5 per hectare, while A1 small- scale farmers will have to fork out US$10 annually per hectare plus US$5 unit tax per hectare annually.
This is in addition to US$1 land tax per hectare new farmers have to pay annually to rural district councils.
A1 farms are generally five hectares in size in the more arable and higher rainfall natural farming regions one and two. The size increases to 10 hectares in the drier regions three, four and five. A2 farms for small-scale commercial farms range from 20 to 240 hectares.
A fortnight ago, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa said government would stamp out multiple farm ownership, saying farmers should not own land exceeding 1 000 hectares in the large commercial farms.
This move could mean that some farmers will pay taxes exceeding US$5 000 given that some of the commercial farms are well over 1 000 hectares in size. Those with bigger farms could pay up to US$15 000.
Top government officials have been fingered in different official audits as multiple farm-owners, ignoring the one-man-onefarm policy and restrictions on farm sizes.
According to information gathered by the Zimbabwe Independent, the list of multiple farm owners is a long one and apart from the First Family with 12 farms, it includes Senate president Edna Madzongwe with six farms, Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo (five), Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi (four), Transport minister Obert Mpofu (three), former Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu (four) and Water and Environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere (two), among others.
Madzongwe was given an offer letter for Stockdale farm (750ha) but is said to be the owner of Aitape farm (2000ha), Couburn Estate (560ha), Mpofu farm (450ha), Bourne farm (445ha) and Reyden farm
(1 340ha) dotted around the country, meaning she would have to fork out US$25 600 per annum.
Chombo has five farms namely; Allan Grange (3000ha), Oldham (400ha), Maple leaf, Glentwyn stand one, and Shingwiri
(1 600ha) in Chegutu and would have to pay more than US$25 000.
Other Zanu PF members clinging to more than one farm included the late Sabina Mugabe (three), the president’s nephew Leo Mugabe (three), Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa (two), Grace Mugabe’s late brother Reward Marufu (two) and retired Air Vice-Marshal Henry Muchena (two).
In addition, government and party bigwigs own vast tracts of land in the world famous Save Conservancy — a development that will see them forking out thousands of dollars in terms of the new tax regulations.
These included Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister Shuvai Mahofa who was allocated the 5 526 hectare Savuli ranch in Chiredzi district and former Masvingo provincial governor Titus Maluleke who got the 3 388 hectare Hammond ranch.
Ironically President Robert Mugabe, who has previously lambasted “greedy” party officials who continue to hold on to multiple farms, is himself a multiple farm owner. Mugabe’s family, including close relatives, reportedly owns more than 12 farms.
The amounts that would need to be paid could be out of reach for most farmers including politicians as they are already facing high costs of electricity and water, lack of financial assistance as well as low prices for their crops.
Various indigenous farmer organisations have already started lobbying government to re-think the taxes, or at least reduce them.
Depinah Nkomo of the Zimbabwe Indigenous Women Farmers Trust told a local radio station that “the charges are exorbitant. Areas such as Matabeleland which have poor harvests annually will therefore need to pay less since they will not be able to cover their (production) costs.”
Nkomo’s sentiments were echoed by Zimbabwe Farmers Union vice-president Berean Mukwende who said any taxes “should be affordable to farmers who are facing high production costs”.
Mugabe, along with several of his ministers and security chiefs, has previously been in the news for failure to pay huge electricity bills owed to power utility Zesa due to farming activities.
Zesa bills leaked to the media in 2012 showed that as at December 31 2011, Mugabe’s family owed more than US$345 000 to the power utility.
Last year the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) cut off defaulting commercial farmers in the Middle Sabi region of Manicaland province including Chipinge South legislator, Enock Porusingazi.
Porusingazi subsequently told the Independent that Zinwa was overcharging farmers through their “obsolete billing equipment inherited from the 1970s”.