New land deal for white farmers hailed but...

HARARE - President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s move to issue 99-year leases to the few remaining white farmers in a bid to end discrimination along racial lines in agriculture has been hailed as a goodwill gesture amid calls to just give the commercial farmers full ownership.

Perrance Shiri, the Lands minister, directed on  January 31 that all remaining white farmers be issued 99-year leases instead of the five-year leases as per the previous arrangement.

This follows Mnangagwa’s order, made earlier last month, to grant 99-year lease agreements to Zimbabwe’s remaining 200 to 300 white farmers.

Since 2000, the government evicted 4 000 white farmers as part of a controversial land redistribution campaign authorities claimed was meant to right colonial wrongs.

The move by Mnangagwa, 75, who took over after Robert Mugabe, 93, resigned in November after the army and his Zanu PF party turned against him, aims to rework the doings of a controversial “land reform” process implemented by the fallen despot in the early 2000s.

Peter Steyl, the president of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) — which represents the large-scale commercial farming sector in Zimbabwe — said this is a step in the right direction, pointing out that Mnangagwa is keeping true to his word since taking office on November 24.

The new administration has further promised to compensate farmers for improvements that were made to any seized land.

It is reported that close to 690 000 hectares or 17 million acres were forcibly taken from white farmers including farming equipment, livestock and personal possessions under former president Mugabe’s rule.

Some farmers intend to be compensated for land and improvements, with claims totalling to about $9 billion.

Ben Gilpin, director of CFU said: “It’s positive to offer farmers longer terms and security.”

NKC African Economics analyst Jee-A van der Linde said this new land deal is important because government has not sufficiently contributed towards providing security in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector.

“Hopefully this new initiative will assist in restoring confidence in property rights and in turn create a more favourable environment for commercial farmers and companies alike,” Linde said.

“Extended lease terms and greater certainty for farmers bodes well for tobacco farming, one of Zimbabwe’s largest contributors to total export earnings. Perhaps the most notable fact gleaned from this announcement is that ‘change’ under Mnangagwa may manifest itself as something of actual substance.”

Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said there are only small numbers of white farmers remaining, so this is primarily a goodwill gesture — towards the United Kingdom (UK) above all.

Chan spoke as Mnangagwa met with the visiting UK minister for Africa Harriet Baldwin at his offices at Munhumutapa — the citadel of government power —yesterday.

The UK Africa minister was accompanied by the British envoy to Zimbabwe Catriona Lang and the head of DfID in Zimbabwe and South Africa Annabel Gerry.

Finance and Economic Planning minister Patrick Chinamasa, Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Sibusiso Moyo and his permanent secretary Ambassador Joey Bimha; deputy chief secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet retired Colonel Christian Katsande; Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) director general Isaac Moyo also attended the talks.

The Daily News crew was barred by overzealous State security agents from covering those crucial high-level talks.

Chan said the 99-year leases were a cheap price to pay in the hope of resuming a normal relationship with the UK.

“Together with all the other gestures of the president, the intended effect is an across-the-board rethink of policy along more open and more modern lines,” Chan told the Daily News.

“However, the western world is by and large still awaiting evidence of substance behind the seeming new liberalism. The elections will be a real test.

“Having said that, there is indeed evidence that many private international business concerns are making serious re-evaluations of their Zimbabwe positions, and many are contemplating at least some modest re-investments.

“It is still unlikely there will be major re-investments until Western governments declare some satisfaction with the new regime.”

Political analyst Maxwell Sungweme said Mnangagwa should just give the remaining white farmers ownership not leases.

“The issue around property rights, investment and access to finance nexus is also to do with leases whether five or 99 years.

“What is needed in my view, to spur investment and access to finance, are title deeds not 99-year leases. These leases are also condescending and patronising. You have to play along politically.

“A lease can be withdrawn if you are deemed to be harbouring political views that are contrary to the establishment.

“But with title deeds, there is nothing like that, in my view. Title deeds also encourage one to develop the land knowing they own it,” Saungweme told the Daily News.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai said it is not a bad idea at all as long as the government will genuinely respect and uphold the validity of the 99-year leases.

“Commercial farming is a capital-intensive operation and as such, farmers need security of tenure to enable them to access capital from financial institutions,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu told the Daily News.

“You can never be a successful commercial farmer if you have no access to capital. In fact, government should introduce a system of title deeds to make it easier for farmers to obtain loans from banks.”

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