|25. January 2018
Ex-farmers demand $9 billion compensation
Dispossessed white farmers have tabled a US$9 billion compensation claim before President Emmerson Mnangagwa, for assets expropriated during the chaotic land redistribution programme as they seek redress from the new government, multiple sources said this week.
The size of the claim does not enjoy the unanimous support of all affected farmers, with a small group reportedly pushing for a US$30 billion claim and international arbitration.
Mnangagwa, who took over power after former president, Robert Mugabe, was ousted last November, has promised to compensate the white farmers as he seeks to restore relations with international lenders and the West to repair an economy damaged by years of mismanagement and looting.
Sources said this week the former white commercial farmers’ claim amounted to US$8,6 billion and it was submitted to Mnangagwa shortly after his November inauguration.
The compensation figure includes land, which the farmers valued using regional rates, a well as fixed assets.
The bill for fixed assets under the claim amounts to US$5,5 billion, said a source. This puts the value of land at US$3,1 billion.
“The US$5,5 billion is for assets that don’t exist anymore,” said the source, who cannot be named for professional reasons. He indicated the compensation bill did not include land or assets lost by sugar cane farmers, whom he said were conglomerates rather than individuals. It also did not include compensation for disruptions or forcible removal of the farmers from their land, as well as at least 350 000 farm workers who equally lost assets and had their houses burnt down during the oft-violent land redistribution exercise.
The source indicated that at least 20 other farmers wanted international arbitration.
“They are not happy with the local process. They want to go to the Court of International Arbitration in Singapore. The quantum of their claim would include a lot of assets — loss of income, interest at international rates, compensation for dislocation and for violence in cases where farmers were beaten or killed,” he said.
But he said the majority of the farmers — at least 4 100 farmers who were forced off their land — favoured a local resolution to the problem.
Mugabe embarked on hasty land reforms in 2000 to counter a surging opposition, which had successfully campaigned the previous year against a new Constitution that was meant to expropriate white-owned farms without compensation. The land reforms were executed swiftly and ruthlessly, courting international criticism and plunging the country into its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980.
Western countries reacted by imposing sanctions on Mugabe and his government, prompting Zimbabwe’s long-time ruler to allege that the sanctions were meant to protect their kith and kin and to undermine his regime, which lost considerable popular support among the impoverished populace.
Peter Steyl, president of the white-dominated Commercial Farmers’ Union, said he was not yet in a position to discuss the issue because the union had not yet met with the Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Resettlement, Perrance Shiri.
He indicated they were going to “get down on the table and discuss the issue” of compensation once they were given the opportunity by government.
Eddie Cross, a member of the opposition who has spoken highly of Mnangagwa’s capacity to turn the economy around, said the issue of compensation had been “intensively in motion for the past two years”.
He said Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa had indicated recently that an assessment of farmlands for valuations had been completed in all provinces except Masvingo and Midlands.
“Once all the provinces are complete, he has indicated that government will meet with farmers and establish the quantum of claims arising from expropriated land,” said Cross.
He added: “I don’t think the compensation claim will be less than US$10 billion.” The white farmers are said to already have a six member committee in place ready to kick-start negotiations with government, which is likely to be led by Chinamasa and Shiri in the talks.
An agreed compensation bill will be admitted to the national account as a national liability, and will likely come before Parliament through a Debt Assumption Bill, said Cross.
But he noted: “I don’t think compensation is possible until after the elections.” Elections are scheduled for this year between July and August.
While the compensation hot potato was one of Mnangagwa’s earliest promises upon coming to power, he has emphasised that the land reform programme, the ruling party’s centrepiece policy, was not reversible.
In an investment guideline the new president took to Davos for the World Economic Forum this week, Mnangagwa noted that compensation for losses incurred through the land reform programme was part of the reforms that required “immediate action”.
“The Government of Zimbabwe has stated its intention to compensate those farmers who lost their investments through the land redistribution programme. To ensure equitable compensation, the Government of Zimbabwe is considering a number of measures including establishment of a special ad-hoc tribunal based on international good practices to determine, amongst others, the value of compensation payable and modalities for payment,” said the government document.
(Financial Gazette, Harare)