‘Zimbabwean white commercial farmers trickling back as black farmers give up’ – Biti

Zimbabwean commercial farmer Rob Smart inspects irrigation pipes for a potato crop at Lesbury Estates farm in Headlands east of the capital Harare on February 1, 2018 days after Smart was allowed to return to his land. When the riot police arrived, Zimbabwean farmworker Mary Mhuriyengwe saw her life fall apart as her job and home disappeared in the ruthless land seizures that defined Robert Mugabe's rule. Mhuriyengwe, 35, watched as police carrying AK47 rifles released teargas to force white farmer Robert Smart off his land in June 2017 -- perhaps the last of 18 years of evictions that helped to trigger the country's economic collapse. / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANA (Photo credit should read JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)

MDC Alliance co-vice president Tendai Biti says a growing number of white commercial farmers are quietly returning back to their farms and leasing the land from non-productive black beneficiaries who have failed to utilise it.

He added the development was a joke and a negation to the much-touted land reform programme.

The Zanu PF led government embarked on a controversial land reform exercise across the country at the turn of the millennium, which saw thousands of landless Zimbabweans getting land at the expense of more than 4 000 white farmers who were kicked out.

However, according to analysts, the process has been marred by lack of competence among the resettled indigenous farmers, land disputes, illegal occupation and lack of resources among the beneficiaries.

But, outspoken politician and top lawyer, Biti, said a brief study on the land reform programme showed some evicted white farmers were returning to their former farms under individual lease agreements with the new black farm beneficiaries.

“A cursory study of the land reform process shows massive and existence of leases of acquired land to former white farmers,” Biti said.

“Mashonaland West and the Midlands provinces have the highest number of white lessees. That being the case, the land reform is now a joke. The creation of black land-owning rentier class whose sole function is to extract rent from land is a negation of land reform programme.

“It is a true reflection of how lost and how vacuous Zanu PF under (President) Emmerson (Mnangagwa) has become. This parasitic class of landlords must be expunged.”

Biti went on to call for an urgent land audit to flush out unproductive farmers while also demanding that landowners should be issued offer letters.

“An urgent land audit is required to root out these parasites. The sitting white tenants must be given offer letters on one household, one farm principle. More importantly, the black parasitic landlords must pay and fund the US$ 3.5 billion in compensation to whites. Zanu PF is pathetic,” he added.

Recently, Mnangagwa signed an agreement to pay compensation for developments made on farms the government seized from white farmers at a total cost of US$3.5 billion.

It has since emerged the government has no capacity to foot the bill and is appealing for assistance.

Harare North MP, Rusty Markham also concurred with Biti’s remarks.

“A drive through Marondera, Wedza, Beatrice, Trelawney, Darwendale and Chegutu will show that (white) lessees from beneficiaries of the land reform number near 600,” said Markham.

“So why are they not given offer letters, but Chinese, Belarusians and BIPPA (Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement) applicants?”

Senior government and Zanu PF officials have been accused of owning multiple farms, which they are failing to utilise despite threats by the state that they will be fished out, but nothing has been done.