HARARE - Zimbabwe has made a commitment to compensate white commercial farmers who lost their property during the chaotic and often violent land seizures at the turn of the millennium.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa told journalists on Monday that the Zanu PF-led government was making strides to compensate the white farmers for improvements to the properties when funds become available.
“Compensating the farmers is covered by our Constitution,” he said adding there was need for measures to determine how much the country owes the farmers before government makes a commitment.
However, the Agricultural Recovery and Compensation, a unit of the Commercial Farmers Union, wants $10 billion compensation from the government for loss of land and other property.
The seizure of land from white farmers is seen by experts as a key factor in Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown since 2000.
Critics point to continuous problems in accounting for low production levels and the under-utilisation of farms — which reflect badly thought-out land policies.
However, until recently, President Robert Mugabe and his government tended to blame poor agricultural productivity on the weather and Western sanctions.
Chinamasa said the compensation of white farmers will be done as a way of injecting confidence in the economy and attracting foreign direct investment.
“Once it is clear to everyone that we are no longer quarrelling, that improves confidence in a great way. We do not have the money to compensate the farmers, but we can at least undertake the preliminary steps,” he said.
The latest development has been described as a major climb-down by the government, which had in the past maintained that the former coloniser, Britain, should repay the farmers because they were from there.
However, London said Zimbabwe should pay its own farmers because it does not have anything to do with land that is not in its territory.
In the last few years, some white commercial farmers took the government to court in South Africa after it refused to pay them compensation for their farms.
The South African Court ruled that Zimbabwean farmers could successfully attach property belonging to Zimbabwe in South Africa.
There are currently less than 300 white commercial farmers out of at least 4 500 who used to farm in Zimbabwe immediately after independence in 1980.
Zimbabwe was then known as “the bread basket of Southern Africa” scooping numerous agricultural awards including the prestigious international $100 000 Prize For Sustainable Hunger which went to president Mugabe in 1988.
Zimbabwe was then the world’s third largest tobacco grower producing more than 290 million kg of tobacco and able to feed itself as well as export maize regionally.