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THE government has for the first time suggested it may give official permission for some white farmers to stay on their land, 15 years after it sanctioned widespread land grabs that plummeted the country into an economic crisis.
Douglas Mombeshora, the lands minister, said provincial leaders had been asked to draw up a list of white farmers they wanted to stay on their farms deemed to be “of strategic economic importance”.
“We have asked provinces to give us the names of white farmers they want to remain on farms so that we can give them security of tenure documents to enable them to plan their operations properly,” Mombeshora said.
Beneficiaries of the land grabs that started in 2000, mostly President Robert Mugabe’s officials and allies, will in future also have to pay a small rental per acre which will be used in part to pay compensation to evicted white farmers.
More than 4,000 white farmers lost their land after Mugabe lost a referendum to the opposition and civic groups, in a bid to regain popularity, authorised land grabs by disaffected war veterans.
Today, fewer than 300 white farmers remain on portions of their original land holdings in Zimbabwe and many of the seized farms lie fallow, meaning the former Breadbasket of Africa has to import food to feed its population.
Among remaining farmers who have been recommended for a reprieve of Mugabe’s edict that whites can no longer own land in Zimbabwe is Elizabeth Mitchell, a poultry farmer who produces 100,000 day-old chicks each week.
Her farm, Barquest, which lies around 160 miles south of Harare in Masvingo Province, had been allocated by the government to Walter Mzembi, the tourism minister, but he recently retreated after the provincial leadership backed her request to stay.
Shuvai Mahofa, Masvingo’s Provincial Affairs Minister, has recommended five more white farmers be issued with 99-year leases because their operations were, she said, of “strategic economic importance”.
Mugabe regularly tells white farmers who have survived years of uncertainty, violence and threats to move off the parcels of land they have hung on to.
“Don’t be too kind to white farmers,” Mugabe told supporters at a recent Zanu PF rally. “They can own industries and companies, or stay in apartments in our towns but they cannot own land. They must leave the land to blacks.”
Mombeshora also announced the long-delayed establishment of a “Land Commission”, which the EU has said it will help fund, to survey how seized white farms were distributed during the chaotic and sometimes violent land grab.
He said new land laws were almost ready to go before parliament which would require beneficiaries to pay rent. Those funds would, he said, be used to start a process of compensation for evicted white farmers.
George Charamba, Mugabe’s spokesman, told The Telegraph during a recent visit to South Africa that the review would be “founded on productivity” and beneficiaries would be subjected to a “use it or lose it” rule.
“Not many have made land reform work and they will not hold on to it if they are not making it sweat,” he said. “There will be tears, black tears this time.”
Hendrik Viljoen, director of the Commercial Farmers Union, which represents interests of thousands of evicted white farmers and the roughly 300 who remain, said he was “pleased” the government was talking about compensation and urged more farmers be given the right to stay.
“So many of the evicted farmers are old now and destitute and desperate for compensation,” he said.
He said he hoped that the UK, would, as the former coloniser and in accordance with Zimbabwe’s constitution since 1992, also meet its commitments to paying some compensation.
“If the UK, alone or with other donors, paid the small amount for the land, we believe international financiers, such as the World Bank would assist Zimbabwe pay white farmers for the more expensive part of the deal, improvements to the land,” he said.
“We doubt the government will raise enough money from rentals to pay much compensation, but it is a start.”
This article was originally published by The Telegraph newspaper.