Harare – An announcement from President Robert Mugabe’s government that it will soon start collecting land rentals from new black farmers to help compensate white farmers whose land was taken from them could be “very good”, the director of the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) said on Saturday.
Hendrik Olivier told News24: “If there is a concrete realisation from the government that they want to sit around the table with white farmers [and discuss compensation], this would be very good and would boost the confidence of the farmers.”
The decision to extract rentals from the new farmers, almost certainly an effort to restore confidence in Zimbabwe internationally and encourage desperately-needed foreign investment, was announced by Lands and Rural Resettlement Minister Douglas Mombeshora on Thursday, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported on Saturday.
The minister said the move was approved by Mugabe’s cabinet last week.
Olivier said that there were “lots of figures floating around” as to the total amount of compensation owed to white farmers who have lost their land under Mugabe’s controversial land reforms, which were launched in 2000. He agreed that it was “most probably” around $10bn, a figure that has been previously cited.
The CFU director said some dispossessed white farmers needed “very much” to be paid back.
“There are some destitute white farmers in their late 70s and early 80s who have lost everything,” Olivier said in a phone interview. The CFU provides regular food parcels to some farmers “just so they can put food on the table”, he added.
According to the Herald, the new land rentals – if successfully collected – will not only be used to compensate farmers but also to help government fund “land audits” to check how and if new farms are being used and by whom.
Around 4 000 white farmers have had their farms taken over in Zimbabwe since self-styled war veterans began invading white-owned land 15 years ago with the encouragement of the ruling Zanu-PF. Some high-profile black farmers took entire commercial farms, but many less well-connected new farmers were allocated smaller plots. There are now as many as 245 000 new black farmers.
Commercial farmers and all those who now own wildlife conservancies will be expected to pay a total of $5 per hectare per year to the government. This figure includes the new rental fee and a previously-imposed land tax. Small scale farmers will pay $15 for their plots per year.
“Cabinet last week approved payment of a land rental by all the beneficiaries of the land reform programme,” Mombeshora was quoted as saying.
“Collection of the land rental will start this year definitely and we are currently busy working on the mechanisms of how the money will be collected,” he added.
A white former farmer who lost his farm in eastern Manicaland province in 2001 told News24 by phone: “I would say that it would take them a very long time to collect enough money to pay it all back. And the ability for some of the farmers to pay this money might be difficult.”
Mugabe’s government said at the start of the takeovers that white farmers would be compensated for improvements to the land they previously owned, like buildings and farmhouses. But the land itself was considered stolen and would not be paid for.
Mombeshora said new black farmers who did not pay the tax “risked losing their farms”, the Herald reported.
Only around 300 white farmers are left on their farms in Zimbabwe. Evictions are ongoing. The Mike Campbell Foundation said Friday that a white farming couple, Richard and Molleen Dennis, were forced to leave their Caledonia farm home near Harare on Tuesday by “a large group of people in expensive cars”.
“They were not even allowed to take their phones, passports, spare clothes or their much loved dogs, about whom they are extremely concerned,” said the foundation, which says it is fighting to protect the rule of law in Zimbabwe. – News24