Mnangagwa poised for land reform reversal?

THIS week, Zimbabwe announced that it will be giving out land to compensate white farmers who lost property during the Fast Track Land Reform Programme that began in 2000.

By Tichaona Zindoga

Statutory Instrument 62 of 2020 provides for the disposal of land by the State in lieu of cash to farmers, ensuring that some 1000 farms will be given to former white commercial farmers, apparently because Zimbabwe does not have money to fund compensation.

Countries with bilateral trade and investment protection agreements with Zimbabwe such as Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, China, South Africa, among others will be able to claim compensation.

Some black people who lost land in purchase areas could also benefit. The previous policy regime regarding land compensation was that farmers would be compensated for improvements they made on the land, not the loss of the resource.

But President Mnangagwa and Agriculture Minister Perrance Minister Perrance Shiri immediately said this did not mean a reversal of the process initiated under Robert Mugabe.

However, in an interview with Review & Mail this week, leader of former commercial farmers indicated that they all but had the administration in Harare by the balls, thanks in no small part to international pressure.

Ben Gilpin, Director at the Commercial Farmers Union, made further demands that – if implemented – will see a reconfiguration of the land tenure system, 20 years after the land reform programme.

According to the Land Commission (Gazetted Land) (Disposal in Lieu of Compensation) Regulations, 2020, “The object of these regulations is to provide for the disposal of land to persons referred to in section 4, who are, in terms of section 295 of the Constitution, entitled to compensation for acquisition of previously compulsorily acquired agricultural land.”

“These regulations apply to the following persons who, before agricultural land owned by them was compulsorily acquired under the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme (hereinafter in these regulations referred to as “acquired agricultural land”), were the owners thereof under a deed of grant or title deed or had completed the purchase of their farms from the State in terms of a lease with an option to purchase…”

The beneficiaries will largely be drawn from countries that Zimbabwe had bilateral trade and investment protection agreements with and these include among others, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, South Africa and China.

Gilpin said returning the land was “cheaper” and would help Zimbabwe to be accepted back into the national community.

“If Zimbabwe wants international support it must play by the rules or stay out of the game,” he declared.

“This is our issue. No respect for treaties or rule of law protecting property rights, no investment.”
He explained: “Restoration of property rights will restore investor confidence and bankability,” said Gilpin.

“This will promote recovery which Zimbabwe needs. It is also a way of complying with international demands that Zimbabwe respect agreements before it gets new support,” he said.

New rules

According to Gilpin, Zimbabwe will have to pay a heavy price to get the support. This will imply changing the whole power and social dynamics of land ownership in Zimbabwe.

Gilpin said white farmers ought to be given more rights to land.

“They should be treated equally with other Zimbabwe farmers classified as indigenous,” he declared.

“40 years after Independence there should be no basis for discrimination. We hope that a resolution that puts the country’s interests is put ahead of political expediency.

“The large liability the state owes for compensation should be turned into a development and recovery dividend by the inclusion of those owed in a transparent and accountable access to the land,” he said.

White farmers also demand that Zanu-PF and Government “chefs” be stripped of land and benefits.
“For the elite that have gained access to a sizable chunk of the land in the name of the nation, much more must be done to make them accountable for this national asset.

“The current system where JVs (joint ventures) enable people who managed to get land which they have not paid for to get a significant rent without any concomitant return to the state is hardly just.

“We need a situation where capable farmers have access and enforceable right to the land they farm if they are to contribute sustainably to national development. Until these rights are extended to farmers regardless of ethnicity, the burden of funding will remain with the state rather the risk and responsibility of farmers,” said Gilpin.

Further, white farmers are demanding that farmland be put “into a transparent and independently managed and administered market” where Government has no control.

“Government should regulate but get away from micro managing land. The current situation needs real reform, that does not mean a reversal but a transparent and accountable conclusion,” said Gilpin.

Payback time

Largely, the new rules mean that Government could settle what it owes to aggrieved farmers, after years of ineffectual payments as compensation.

Apparently, the white farmers were not fooled, either.

Gilpin said: “Since start of FTLRP around 300 farmers have had compensation for improvements paid at very low values. Most took these payments during the hyperinflation period pre 2009. They took payments because they had no means of sustenance as most were unable to work because of age or infirmity.

“In 2018 Government put US$53million into budget. By consensus this was agreed to be shared by self- selected farmers in dire need.

“750 applied and expected to get US$55000 apiece. This would have gone a long way to assist. However, when the 1:1 (foreign exchange regulations) came, overnight the value tumbled.

“As of present almost a year after the payments started the current USD value for the over 100 still to receive this amount of ZWL55000 is now only USD1000 (if measured on) the Old Mutual Implied Rate.

“The measure was well received but in reality is a pittance compared to what is owed. The government has touted this as compensation when it is only interim relief and little more than that.”

He explained that there were discussions currently underway to establish the real value of compensation.

“Government will need international support to cover this,” said Gilpin.

“Such support will depend on a satisfactory implementation of economic and other reforms.”

Mnangagwa’s denial

This week the President made strident denials that he was reversing the land reform programme.
Speaking at a function in Nyanga on Wednesday, he said: “We took back our land and we will have it forever.

“There is no negotiation on that issue because the land is the heritage of our future generations.”
On Friday Shiri convened a press conference where he sought to bat away suggestions of reversing the land reform.

“The land reform programme is final and irreversible. Any sentiments to the contrary are false and are to be disrespected with the contempt they deserve,” he said.

Source: Review and Mail