The East African | 30 July 2020
Zimbabwe to pay white farmers $3.5 billion over Mugabe land reforms
By KITSEPILE NYATHI
Zimbabwe on Wednesday agreed to pay $3.5 billion in compensation to white farmers whose land was seized by Robert Mugabe’s regime as part of his agrarian reforms in the early 2000s.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa described the agreement as historic, saying it would bring closure to an emotive issue.
"Today we signed a historic compensation agreement with the Commercial Farmers Union, bringing closure and bringing a new beginning to land discourse in Zimbabwe," President Mnangagwa said.
"The agreement reaffirms the irreversibility of the land reform and is a symbol of our commitment to the rule of law and property rights. It is a testimony to the fact that as fellow Zimbabweans we can peacefully resolve our differences. We cannot change the past, we can only learn from it.
"Let us build on the trust demonstrated today, let us choose dialogue over confrontation and let us move forward together."
The land seizures that began in 2000 displaced 4,500 white Zimbabweans from their commercial farms that were parcelled out to landless blacks.
A regional court in 2008, however, ruled that the farm seizures were patently racist and ordered Harare to compensate the dispossessed farmers.
Andrew Pascoe, who represented the Commercial Farmers Union at Wednesday’s signing ceremony held at President Mnangagwa’s official residency in Harare, said the deal would resolve a long-standing dispute.
"As Zimbabweans we have chosen to resolve this long outstanding issue," Mr Pascoe said.
The amounts to be paid to individual farmers or their descendants were not immediately made public.
Zimbabwe does not have the money for the compensation as its economy is struggling and authorities say long-term bonds would be issued to mobilise resources.
Two months ago, Mnangagwa’s government said it was offering about 800 commercial farms as compensation to black farmers and foreign investors that lost their land during the violent farm takeovers.
The offer was for ‘indigenous’ farmers and foreigners protected by Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPAs) and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs).
Some of the dispossessed farmers were from countries such as Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland whose properties were protected by treaties between Harare and the Western countries.
For years, Zimbabwe ignored rulings by regional and international courts compelling it to reverse the takeover of farms protected by BIPPAs and BITs.
The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) – part of the World Bank Group – in 2009 and 2015 ruled against Zimbabwe in cases involving Dutch farmers.
The European Union, Britain and the United States put the issue of compensation of the white commercial farmers as one of the pre-conditions for re-engagement with Zimbabwe after Mugabe’s fall in a military coup in 2017.
International lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have also emphasised that Zimbabwe must compensate the former landowners if it wants loans.
The farmers were demanding nearly $7 billion in compensation for their properties.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal ruled that Zimbabwe violated the regional body’s treaty by denying the dispossessed farmers access to the courts.
Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, championed the land reform programme saying it was meant to correct colonial injustices.