15. September 2016

White farmers get compensation?

Last week, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa revealed that the cash-strapped government had paid more than 40 white commercial farmers who were evicted from their farms under the chaotic and often violent land reform programme.
Presenting the 2016 Mid-Year Fiscal Policy Review Statement, Chinamasa disclosed that US$42,7 million was paid out to the former farmers, 16 years after their farms were expropriated by government.
He said: “Government has taken a big step towards compensation of previous farmers by expediting mapping and valuation of improvements on farms acquired under the Land Reform Programme... To date, US$42,7 million has been paid out for 43 farms, not withstanding fiscal constraints being faced by government.” Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) acting director, Marc Carrie-Wilson expressed doubt on the amount, but urged government to expedite compensation of dispossessed farmers.
It is estimated that close to US$1 billion is needed to pay over 4 500 former white commercial farmers who were forced off their land to make way for government’s land redistribution exercise.
Carrie-Wilson said the compensation government had paid out for the 42 farms was “not sufficient”.  “We don’t even know the breakdown of the US$42,7 million. We understand there was a (Administrative Court) judgement in favour of Interfresh in January this year. Government (was ordered to pay US$27 million) to Interfresh as compensation for its citrus estates which were compulsorily acquired. That would have taken much of that amount. But it would be interesting to see that breakdown. We would want to see more compensation because it encourages investment into the country.“ “Government had always taken the position that they will pay for improvements. But we had never seen it happening. If you acquire something with no intention to pay for it, then it’s a disaster.” Ben Freeth, a dispossessed white farmer who won a court judgement for compensation at a regional court, said the compensation figures “hardly shows commitment on government part to compensate farmers”. He said the amount required for land compensation was “still to be determined”.
Efforts by this newspaper to get the list of names of those who were compensated were futile as the Minister of Lands and Rural Settlement, Douglas Mombeshora’s mobile phone continuously went unanswered. Chinamasa could also not be reached for further clarity despite repeated attempts.  Interestingly, government had previously maintained that farmers would not be compensated since the land had been stolen from the majority during colonial rule but this now appears to be a major shift in land policy.
The State-backed farm invasions that began in 2000 triggered targeted sanctions from Western countries, a development which compounded Zimbabwe’s economic woes.
This resulted in international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the African Development Bank freezing financing after the country defaulted on debt repayments.
Chinamasa admitted the economy was “facing strong headwinds with major challenges being experienced in the economy and business activity”. Now, under increasing pressure to woo back international lenders and donors, government has begun the process to compensate former white commercial farmers.
According to Section 16 (a) and (b) of the country’s Land Acquisition Act, which was last amended in 2006, government is required to pay fair compensation to any person who suffered loss or deprivation of rights as a result of expropriation of land within a reasonable time.
All expropriated farmland in Zimbabwe is now owned by the State, meaning that present occupants have no legal claim on the farms.
None of them have any form of title, meaning the land cannot be used as collateral. This had made banks reluctant to extend loans to the new farmers to buy fertilisers, seed and chemicals to enable them to raise output, leaving the country struggling to feed itself.
Some of the evicted white farmers are now farming in Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Nigeria while others migrated to Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
Ironically, Zimbabwe is now importing maize meal from the former white farmers now farming in these countries.
In the absence of title deeds, government has struggled to transfer ownership of the land to the new settlers, a situation that has frustrated its plans to issue 99 year leases that are tradable and bankable.  Economist, John Robertson, said government was reluctant to compensate white farmers “but they certainly do want to look as if they are trying”. “Government still does not want to compensate the farmers and it is too broke to do so anyway,” said Robertson. (Financial Gazette, Harare)


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