GOVERNMENT’s dramatic turnaround to offer farms to former white farms is indicative of the Zanu PF government’s policy inconsistency, which has decimated the once flourishing agriculture sector, and in the process, cast Zimbabwe’s fragile economy into a tailspin.
In a policy somersault, government this week announced that it would allocate farms to former white farmers, nearly two decades after the previous administration of former president Robert Mugabe rolled out chaotic agrarian reforms, which at the time he said were irreversible through a decision that was meant to address the emotive and long standing land question.
In 2000, the long-time ruler, through a populist policy move, forcibly grabbed land from white farmers in a wave of violent invasions spearheaded by his wartime comrades.
The violent land seizures, which attracted the ire of the international community and left Zimbabwe isolated also turned the once food self-sufficient southern African country into a basket case.
Two decades after the unpopular land invasions, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, will undo Mugabe’s enduring, but ruinous policies, which rolled back years of prosperity and agricultural productivity.
The announcement read: “Those former farm owners who are indigenous Zimbabweans or citizens of countries which are ratified Bilateral Investment Promotion Protection Agreements (Bippas) or Bilateral Investment Treaties with Zimbabwe at the time their land was compulsorily acquired . . . are entitled to compensation for both land and improvements.
“Government has already provided that these former farm owners can apply in writing . . . for restoration of title to the piece of agriculture land that was compulsorily acquired from them for resettlement . . . Government will in the appropriate circumstances revoke offer letters of resettled farmers currently occupying those pieces of land and offer them alternative land elsewhere.”
This week’s announcement comes on the back of the Global Compensation Deed (GCD), under which government recently pledged to mobilise US$3,5 billion to compensate former farmers who lost land in 2000, in another policy move that has raised questions of how they plan to fund the compensation.
Critics contend that with Zimbabwe increasingly becoming isolated due to its deteriorating human rights record, Mnangagwa’s administration is using this to try and cleanse its battered image.
Following the controversial announcement, political analyst Alex Magaisa noted that the decision would roll back the land reform of 2000, and plunge the floundering agriculture sector into a fresh crisis.
“Zanu spent years hoodwinking people that land reform was irreversible; that it would never pay compensation for land. We told them they were lying. Now they have gone a step further than compensation, they are returning the actual land. Imagine the fuss all along and the waste.
“This will spark another controversial chapter, with those who thought they were comfortably resettled being removed to make way for the return of the farmers,” Magaisa this week said on microblogging site, Twitter.
However, government in a statement clarifying the August 31 statement said on Wednesday: “It is important to state that the land reform programme is irreversible and the chapter is closed and will not be revisited.
“The statements of reversal of the land reform programme are misplaced and should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.”
Economic analyst Tawanda Purazeni contends that the latest announcement by government on land is an admission on its part that it violated property rights when it rolled out the sweeping agrarian reforms in 2000.
“The policy makers are now back tracking. Chickens have come to roost. It has dawned on them that the failure to value property rights has adverse ramifications to the economy at large. Our relationship with multilateral financial institutions hit rock bottom and FDI has shrunk since the onset of the haphazardly executed land reform programme.
“This damage control has been long overdue,” Purazeni said.
He, however, cautioned that the new land reforms could further plunge the comatose sector into fresh turmoil.
Already, government is rolling out a fresh wave of land invasions mostly targeting productive white farmers and political opponents under the guise of farm rationalisations in yet another policy move that has unnerved investors.
However, Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) executive director Paul Zakariya states that offering compensation to white farmers, and restoring their right to land is enshrined in the Constitution the country wrote in 2013 during the inclusive government era.
“Our understanding of this matter is that, ground was laid in the 2013 Constitution for such considerations. The constitution, which was overwhelmingly voted for by citizens, carries the provisions to allow, where possible, indigenous Zimbabweans who lost their land in the land acquisition process, to apply to the reinstated or resettled elsewhere. The same constitution is also quite clear on how land secured under Bippa arrangements would be handled. These were very contested issues during the Constitution making process,” he said.
“The major parties that participated in the process were coming from extreme views on this matter. One advanced a position not to entertain compensation of any kind or form (not even to speak of reinstating former farmers), while the other pushed for a complete reversal of the land reform programme or compensation for both land and developments. It was after much debate and sustained stalemates that compromises were reached in the form of the text that we see now in the Constitution.
“Judging by the commitment that has already been made to compensate dispossessed farmers and the progress that has been made to date on addressing issues around the Bippa secured farms, it is our considered view that fulfilling on this moral obligation, as enshrined in our Constitution, is not in any way, a reversal of the land reform itself. It is also our considered view that, if Zimbabweans feel that they want to renege on the provisions of their own Constitution, then due process must be followed by amending the Constitution in as far as that provision is concerned,” Zakariya said.