SCORES of mostly elderly white Zimbabwe farmers who were evicted from their land since 2000 met in Harare on Tuesday for a briefing on compensationas the country’s plans could hit a snag as the black farmers expected to stump up the cash say they don’t have it.
“I think this meeting will bring people up to date. We are not telling anyone that compensation is on its way, because it isn’t,” said Hendrik Olivier, chief executive of the Commercial Farmers Union.
This is ahead of a crucial International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting in early May, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the group that the Zimbabwe government wanted to revisit the compensation issue for evicted white farmers.
About 4 000 white farmers were evicted from early 2 000 onwards with most of the beneficiaries – like Chinamasa himself – being top civil servants, members of the security forces, and the judiciary.
The new occupants working the land, many of who had few farming skills when they were resettled, say they can barely make ends meet, let alone pay an extra levy.
Their agricultural output is a fraction of the level seen before 2000, when President Robert Mugabe – saying he sought to correct colonial injustices – introduced land reforms which led to thousands of experienced white farmers being evicted.
They are also being hammered by Zims worst drought in a quarter of a century and toiling under a stagnating economy that has seen banks reluctant to lend and cheaper food imports from the likes of SA undermining their businesses.
“Are farmers able to pay? I will say no. Is the land being productive? I will say no again,” said Victor Matemadanda, secretary general of a group representing war veterans who led the land seizure drive in 2 000 and are now farmers.
He told Reuters that many farmers could not even meet water and electricity bills and that it was the government’s obligation – not theirs – to pay the compensation.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union President Abdul Nyathi also said his members would not be able to pay compensation. “Most of the farmers face viability issues, the government will have to look at other ways of raising money,” he added.
But if the money could be found, the paperwork for compensation has been done. About seven million hectares was taken from white farmers since 2 000. The 3 900 extraordinarily detailed claims for the seized farms were achieved through the farmers’ records, and processed by professional valuers.
The claims total US$8.6 billion for the fixed assets such as houses and dams or for “improvements” on the farms, and US$2.8 billion – the value of the land.
The valuations, achieved and maintained by Harare company VALCON, are deemed “modest” by outsiders.
Zanu PF seniors inspected the VALCON files mid-2015.
Zimbabwe has long said it cannot afford to pay white farmers for assets on their farms. And the UK has said it will not pay for the land.
But times are changing. Moods are softening, and the World Bank says it would like to help Zimbabwe recover its agricultural economy.
While Zimbabwe now grows as much tobacco as it did before land invasions, the crop is considered bad for Zimbabwe’s ecology, not least because staggering numbers of indigenous trees are felled for fires to cure it.
Most other export crops planted by evicted white farmers – coffee, nuts and fruit – have died.
All white-owned farms were nationalised in 2005. No white person can buy agricultural land in Zim.
The compensation issue recently motivated the government to demand that beneficiaries of formerly white-owned farms must pay rent to the state for its land they use, and for houses on the farms in which they live.
Lands minister Douglas Mombeshora said a portion of rentals collected would be used to pay compensation to white farmers.
“They will never pay. Most can’t afford to. And it is hard to believe that money will get to the evicted farmers,” a Harare banker said on Tuesday.
“It would take generations to get enough money to pay out the farmers’ claims and many are now so old.”
Mugabe has always made it clear that he went to war against the Rhodesians to get the vote for the black majority and to “get the land back”.
But an independence constitution agreed to in London, in 1979, guaranteed that white—owned agricultural land would be bought on a willing-buyer and willing-seller basis for ten years.
The UK paid for half of the cost of four million hectares bought for resettlement, while the Zim government paid the other half.
Zim passed the Land Acquisition Act in 1992, which said only under-utilised land, or land owned by foreigners, would be taken (without the willing seller clause) but that compensation would be paid by the government for fixed assets on white-owned land taken for resettlement.
But Zim’s economy slowed and land resettlement ground to a halt in 1988 and never got going again until land invasions post-2 000.
Chinamasa also said, rather optimistically, that there were now “bankable” 99-year-leases for new farmers occupying formerly white-owned land. Banks will not lend to new farmers without land as collateral.
“These leases are not yet bankable,” said a Harare bank executive last week.
In two weeks, evicted white farmers are scheduled to hold landmark meetings with the lands ministry, the World Bank and the United Nations. – Reuters/ANA edited by Patience Rusere