Zimbabwe commits to compensating dispossessed white farmers, but says funding a problem

Zimbabwe commits to compensating dispossessed white farmers, but says funding a problem

HARARE, March 31 (The Source) – President Robert Mugabe’s government is committed to compensating more than 6,000 white farmers whose land it has compulsorily acquired since 2000, but funding problems mean the process might be protracted, Zimbabwe’s finance minister said on Thursday.

Zimbabwe’s new constitution, adopted in 2013, makes provision for the compensation of the dispossessed farmers, mostly for improvements on the land, and government has this year started consultations on how to make reparations.

Chinamasa told a consultative workshop — jointly convened by the government of Zimbabwe, the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme and attended by representatives of former and resettled farmers as well as western diplomats from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands — that the State was determined to “bring closure” to the highly divisive land issue.

Chinamasa said the renewed effort to compensate white farmers was in line with the government’s bid to normalise ties with the international community and pave way for the country’s re-admission into the global economy.

“Re-engaging with farmers here is much more important than re-engaging the world,” Chinamasa said.

He, however, cautioned that Zimbabwe would need time to pay the farmers, whose losses are said to run into billions of dollars, according to independent valuations. Zimbabwe has struggled to draw in an average $4 billion in annual revenues since 2009 when it dumped its currency to informally dollarise and tame hyperinflation, which had reached 500 billion percent in December 2008, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) statistics.

“We need to be realistic, we are hamstrung by sub-optimal economic growth and a debt burden, but it is important that we know how much we owe,” Chinamasa said, refuting media reports that he had circulated a paper in Parliament detailing a $10 billion compensation fund.

Although Chinamasa did not provide details of how the government would raise the cash to compensate the farmers, a concept paper circulated at the meeting listed Treasury Bills, allocations from the budget, a land tax and donor funds as possible sources of funding.

Addressing the gathering, EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Phillipe van Damme said the resolution of any outstanding issues relating to land reform was crucial to the country’s economic stability and growth.

“The land question is central to Zimbabwe’s economic, political, social and cultural life and therefore needs special attention from all of us,” said van Damme.

“It is important to come up with a compensation model acceptable to all. The process must be all-inclusive.”

John Laurie, a former president of the white-dominated Commercial Farmers Union, commended the government for finally moving to act on compensating for seized farms.

“We see this as the formation of a team-based approach for a resolution of the land issue,” Laurie said.

Wonder Chabikwa, president of the predominantly black Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union concurred.

“We welcome this because it removes a tone off our farmers’ backs. Compensation will unlock the value of the land,” Chabikwa said.

However, not everyone was smoking the peace pipe.

Stanislaus Goredema, leader of the Zimbabwe National Farmers Union (ZNFU), said his organisation was against compensation but favoured the allocation of land to the dispossessed farmers.

“I’m sorry we’re going to throw spanners into these works. There’s a difference between farms and land. Thousands died for the land, but you can pack up and set up farm anywhere,” Goredema said.

“The whole thing (compensation) is a sell-out. Rhodesia’s 1923 constitution described Zimbabwe as a colony by conquest. Meaning when our people were defeated, they were not compensated. We went to war for the land and won, why should we pay compensation? Let’s realign the law and allow African, black and white, to use the land productively.”

Responding to the ZNFU’s quest for compensation for land seizures by the colonial government, Chinamasa said while he saw some merit in those concerns, Zimbabwe now needed to move on and resolve a major stumbling block to its re-integration into the global economic community.