HARARE – Zimbabwe is shelling out an average US$692,000 each in compensation to white farmers who were driven off their farms during the country’s fast-track land reform programme, according to data provided by Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube on Wednesday.
Ncube told Parliament that the government had since 2009 paid compensation to 93 farmers to the tune of $64,4 million. The government is keen to stress that the compensation is only for improvements on the land, and not the land itself.
Last year, US$12 million had been disbursed to 29 farmers and in his 2019 budget statement Ncube set aside US$17.5 million for the purpose.
The government had set a deadline of April 30 this year for farmers’ unions to register their members entitled to compensation.
Ncube did not reveal how many farmers were in line to be compensated. But Ben Gilpin, the director of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe (CFU), said about 860 farmers had applied for compensation, far less than the 4,500 believed to have lost their land.
Using the average payout so far, Zimbabwe’s final compensation bill for the 860 new applicants and the 93 compensated to date could top US$660 million, or US$3 billion if all 4,500 displaced farmers applied.
The process to identify and register farmers for compensation was being undertaken the CFU and a committee representing the farmers.
A committee comprising government officials and former farm owners is currently valuing improvements made on the farms. That process should end this month and will determine the full amount due to the farmers.
Two decades ago, the government of then President Robert Mugabe carried out at times violent evictions of the estimated 4,500 white farmers and redistributed the land to around 300,000 black families, arguing it was redressing imbalances from the colonial era.
But land reform still divides public opinion as opponents see it as a partisan process that left the country struggling to feed itself.
The move to compensate the white farmers, which is supported by a constitutional provision, has also divided Zimbabweans and risks alienating President Emmerson Mnangagwa from a section of his party.
Zimbabwe is battling to secure foreign currency for its hospitals, and finance fuel, electricity and food imports as it battles its worst economic crisis in over a decade.
Mnangagwa’s government, which maintains it will only pay compensation for infrastructure and improvements on farms and not for the land, is talking to international financial institutions on options to raise the full amount to pay farmers.
Colonialists seized some of the best agricultural land and much of it remained in the hands of white farmers after independence in 1980, while many blacks were landless.
Additional reporting Reuters