Is Zimbabwe ‘returning’ land grabbed from white commercial farmers and halting further farm seizures? This is one of the major questions coming from many as the government has made overtures suggesting the move.
The country’s minister of lands, Douglas Mombeshora recently told Zimbabwe’s provincial leaders to come up with names of white farmers they wanted to remain on their farms. The minister is reported to have said the farms should be "of strategic economic importance".
The decision comes 15 years after the state encouraged violent seizures of white-owned properties soon after Mugabe’s administration lost the constitutional referendum to the opposition forces.
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More than 4,000 white farmers lost their land after Mugabe allowed free reign of former liberation fighters into white commercial farmers’ properties. The move was condemned world over as both blatant disregard of private property and racist. The government seems to have toned down on its racialised approach.
“We do not have a separate policy for white people when it comes to land distribution. 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 was quoted as saying recently.
This has not been the only move by Mugabe’s administration demonstrating reversal of the chaotic and violent land dispossessions of 2000.
Mombeshora was also quoted several months ago saying commercial and communal land reform farm beneficiaries will - from this year - start paying rentals, with funds being channelled towards compensating former white farmers.
Zimbabwe's cabinet has approved payment of a land rental by all beneficiaries of the land reform programme, and the ministry would not only collect the land rentals but unit tax.
Black commercial farmers will be expected to pay US$3 land rental per hectare and US$2 unit tax per hectare annually. This amount is poised to pay land to white commercial farmers who lost their land.
At its peak in 1997, the agriculture sector employed more than 500,000 people, contributing 30% of the gross domestic product (GDP), but that has declined. The sector now contributes 15-18% of the GDP, over 40% of national export earnings, and 60% of raw materials to agro-based industries.
Since 2000 when the land invasions started, production of maize has declined 79%, wheat by 90%, soya beans 66%, citrus 50%, fresh produce 61%, dairy 59%, beef 67%, coffee 92%, tea 40%, according to reports. The country has been bleeding from ill-conceived policies which include severing ties with Western Europe.
Zimbabwe has over the past decade been looking to the East but reports suggest even that region is cautious about investing into the troubled Southern African country. Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa recently visited China seeking to attract the much needed foreign direct investment.
“The Chinese were very open with the Zimbabwean delegation, as they have been of late.
“On the second day of the visit Wang Jiarui, minister of International Departments, for instance, did not mince his words, he told Mnangagwa that Mugabe’s age is contributing to the Chinese’s lack of confidence in investing in the country as it [is] now part of political risk,” reported Zimbabwe Independent which quoted a senior government official.