COMMENT: The latest in the land story in Zimbabwe is a victory for compromise – so says the finance minister.

PUBLISHED: Thu, 03 Sep 2020 18:43:26 GMT
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By Mthuli Ncube

In 2000, Zimbabwe embarked on an historic Land Reform Programme; the resettling of black families on land taken from their ancestors. It was an attempt to rectify horrific, historic, injustices.

Indeed, in the late 1990s, white Zimbabweans still accounted for less than 1% of the population, yet they owned 70% of the fertile arable land.

Tractors from Belarus arrive in Zimbabwe as part of training for farmers.

This was the context that the land reform process was based on.However, what was initially designed as a rectification of centuries of displacement and brutal colonialization became a policy riddled with much complexity. Upon becoming president, one of Emmerson Mnangagwa’s first acts was to constitute an Inter-Ministerial Compensation Committee in 2018. While the principle of indigenous land repossession was not to be reversed, the rule of law was to be respected, and compensation provided for improvements on the land.

On the 29th July 2020, Zimbabwe once again made history. A deal worth US$3.5 billion was signed between the government and white farmers. President Mnangagwa described it as a “new beginning of the land discourse in Zimbabwe.”

Andrew Pascoe, President of the Commercial Farmers Union, representing white farmers, called it “a huge milestone.”

In addition, on August 31, the government followed up by declaring that a number of foreign white farmers whose farms were seized, and are protected by international treaties can apply to get it back.

Furthermore, if direct restitution proves to be impossible, the farmers will be offered land elsewhere.

So how did we arrive at this? And how is it to be implemented? Firstly, the entire agreement is based on two sections of the Zimbabwean constitution: Section 72(3) and Section 295 provide for the payment of compensation for improvements on “compulsorily acquired agricultural lands”.

Whilst it has taken time, and indeed an entirely new dispensation, the Government and farmers’ representatives committed to engage in extensive negotiations on the basis of the law.

Finally, after much deliberation and debate, spirited conversations and emotional exchanges, a deal has been hammered out, and authorised by a referendum of the white farmers with a huge majority. The final agreement importantly included a global compensation figure which includes infrastructure and biological assets, and land clearing costs.

Many question where this money will come from. Zimbabwe is already weighed down by economic challenges.

Our economic plan, The Transitional Stabilization Plan, a broad swathe of deep and decisive economic reforms has already come up against cyclones, droughts and now a global pandemic. Funds therefore will be raised mostly in the capital markets through United States dollar denominated long term debt instruments, as well as other suitable non debt instruments and financing structures.

In order to see this through, a Joint Resource Mobilisation Committee has been set up by President Mnangagwa, which comprises both government officials and representatives of the farmers, and chaired by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development.This spirit of cooperation and compromise is at the heart of the new Zimbabwe.

Indeed, progress on land reform was not only a constitutional commitment, but a national necessity. Our international standing has been eroded over the last two decades, and this issue has often been at the core of those difficulties.

Since November 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has been charting a new course for re-engagement, international cooperation and good faith. Zimbabwe has been reaching out to friends; old and new, with a clear and genuine message: Zimbabwe is back on the world stage, and we desire to be a respected and responsible member of the international community.

As President Mnangagwa noted in his inauguration speech in 2017, “While we cannot change the past, there is a lot we can do in the present and future to give our nation a different,positive direction.”

For a country to change direction, difficult but necessary decisions must be made. Whilst we will never give up on the plight of the great mass of land-deprived indigenous black Zimbabweans, we must be loyal to the constitution and respect property rights. With no property rights, there is no business community and there are no investments.

And for an economy to grow and for jobs to be created, we must get the basics right. Likewise, there can be no law and order without the rule of law. And there can be no rule of law without a respected constitution.

A just solution therefore was vital. We faced many challenges along the way. Some were bridged between the parties alone. Others required international assessors and arbitration.

The key terms include a global compensation figure with a 50% down-payment within 12 months of signing the agreement, and the full balance to be paid over a period of 48 months.

This is no mean feat and the Joint Resource Mobilisation Committee are developing a joint road map for implementation. In the meantime, the Government will continue to provide payment of interim relief payments in the National Budget until sufficient funds have been raised for the down-payments. Work is underway with roadshows to potential financiers being lined up and strategies for resource mobilisation and stakeholder engagement being put together.

For economic reforms to succeed, the new Zimbabwe must be a place of coordination, collaboration and compromise whereby the rule of law is sacrosanct. This victory for compromise in the form of a complex agreement between the Zimbabwean government and the white farmers are a sign of this spirit and of better times ahead.

Prof. Mthuli Ncube is the Minister of Finance for the Republic for Zimbabwe

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