Farms retake splits Zanu PF

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party is sharply divided over a moratorium to seize commercial farms protected under government-to-government agreements.

The decree to stop seizures of foreign-owned farms protected under Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (Bippas) was issued after government was forced to fork out 16 million Euro by the Washington-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) to 40 evicted Dutch farmers.

No payment has been made by the cash-strapped Zimbabwe government to date, with more claims against the government pending before the ICSID.

While Lands minister Herbert Murerwa told State TV that government had resolved to stop evictions on farms protected under Bippa to avert paying further compensation, his Justice and Legal Affairs counterpart Patrick Chinamasa said government disregards the treaty aimed at protecting overseas investments and any farm designated for expropriation would be seized.

He spoke amid a furore over the destruction of 70 hectares of maize crop grown by 55 small-scale farmers who had invaded Tavydale Farm in Mazowe protected by a Bippa.

The 55 farmers were arrested and their claims for compensation thrown out in a dramatic turn of events.

Murerwa said government has resolved to stop all seizure on farms protected under Bippa.

“If it is covered by a Bippa, a bilateral agreement, then government has taken a decision that it will not take these farms for the time being because it will simply increase our liability to litigation,” Murerwa said, signalling a shift in government policy.

But Chinamasa said government will press ahead with plans to transfer control of land under white-ownership to local blacks.

“The law is very clear, the constitution allows government to acquire any land irrespective of whether it comes under Bippa or not,” Chinamasa said. “The only proviso is that when we acquire land under Bippa, we should pay full compensation, when we acquire outside Bippa we only pay compensation for improvements.”

A policy document tabled by Mugabe’s Zanu PF party at its annual conference in December notes that out of 153 farms protected under Bippa, 116 have been seized to resettle 4 179 black families, leaving 37 farms protected under overseas agreements.

“The agreements require that the government pay fair compensation in currency of former owner’s choice for both land and improvements for acquired Bippa farms,” says the Zanu PF policy document.

“In this regard, the government has an outstanding payment of 16 million Euro awarded to Dutch farmers by the ICSID.”

The countries with farms under Bippa are given as Denmark, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Netherlands and Switzerland.

Germany has threatened to boycott the August UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) summit scheduled for Victoria Falls over flagrant breach of Bippa by Zimbabwe government. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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