Zimbabwe: Mugabe begins compensating white farmers

By Thulani Munda

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe's government has begun compensating white farmers whose land it confiscated under a controversial farm redistribution programme over the past seven years.

In a notice published in the state controlled Herald newspaper on Thursday, Ministry of Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement permanent secretary Ngoni Masoka advised the former white farmers to approach the ministry for compensation for improvements on farms such as buildings, dams roads and other structures.

The Harare administration has said it will not pay white farmers for the actual land saying whites stole the land from blacks in the first place.

The Lands Ministry's compensation committee will fix the amount of cash due to each farmer although it is unclear what method the committee will use to evaluate the immovable properties on farms.

The government notice read in part: "The compensation committee has fixed the compensation payable for immovable improvements on acquired farms in terms of Section 29B of the Land Acquisition Act (Chapter 20:10).

"The former owners or representatives should contact the Ministry of Lands, Land Reform, and Resettlement as a matter of urgency in connection with their compensation. The list of farmers whose compensation has been determined are available at the offices of the Chief Lands Officer in the provinces."

Efforts to get further clarification on the matter from Masoka or Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement Minister, Didymus Mutasa were fruitless as both were not reachable on their phones.

However, because the valuation of movable property on farms was carried out by government land inspectors some months ago, there are fears that any attached values may not reflect the true value because of Zimbabwe's runaway inflation which at more than 3 700 percent is the highest in the world.

Mugabe's government seized white-owned commercial farms starting in 2000, in a bloody and ruthless campaign, with government initially refusing to compensate the dispossessed farmers.

Approximately 4 000 formerly white-owned farms were seized, and the white farmers ended up settling in neighbouring countries after being hounded out of Zimbabwe.

But the land reform programme, condemned internationally plunged Zimbabwe into acute food shortages because the cash-strapped government failed to provide black peasants resettled on former white farms with skills support, inputs and financial back-up to maintain production.

Food production plummeted by about 60 percent to leave Zimbabwe - once a regional breadbasket - dependent on handouts from international food relief agencies.

The southern African country's once vibrant manufacturing sector also took a severe knock with most of the industries that depended on the key farming sector for orders and inputs forced to operate below 50 percent of capacity as agriculture collapsed.