BY Lorraine Muromo/Precious Chida
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government says it will give back land to 350 indigenous farmers who lost their farms during the land reform programme, as well as all land under Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (Bippa).
Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement minister Perrance Shiri said government had already started the process of giving back the farms and restituting deeds to the affected farmers, but denied government was reversing the land reform programme.
He also said the government would also repossess land to compensate white former commercial farmers affected by the 2000 land reform programme, described by many as chaotic.
“You need to go through the Constitution; there is no intention whatsoever to reverse land reform for example, the ruling party’s policy was that no land belonging to indigenous farmers was supposed to be acquired, even government had the same policy but somewhere along the way, 440 farms owned by indigenous farmers were acquired,” Shiri said.
“Fortunately, we still haven’t resettled people on 350 such farms, but on paper, they have been acquired and are now State land. People were resettled on 90 farms which formerly belonged to indigenous farmers of which 22 are A2 settlements, what we are simply saying is that, we want to give back those farms to indigenous farmers, especially the 350 where indigenous farmers are still carrying out their operations.”
Shiri added: “We want to regularise the position so that the cancelled title deeds can be restituted and then, 90 people were restituted and we will be looking at the 22 where we resettled A2 farmers, and if the indigenous farmers, former owners are interested in acquiring their farms back they can apply to a committee of officials who will consider the pros and cons of handing back the farms.
“For those farms where A2 farmers have been resettled, we can find alternative land for those farmers, which means we are downsizing farms. We have had an audit report from the Land Commission whereby we have identified abandoned farms, vacant farms and cases of multiple farm ownership and we will definitely be resettling those farmers or relocating those affected farmers to those identified pieces of land.”
Shiri further said the government was also in the process of giving back acquired Bippa farms in honour of its agreement with other governments.
“The same principle applies to Bippa farms and with Bippa farms; government had a government to government agreement with other countries. We are living in a global village and we are expected to be predictable as a government. When we sign an agreement we honour that agreement, otherwise if we are in the habit of changing goalposts, no one in the world, no nation, no government will want to do business with us.”
Government early this month promulgated Statutory Instrument (SI) 62 of 2020 which announced its intention to give back farms to all farmers who lost their land during the land reform programme.
The SI triggered an outcry, with some people accusing government of trying to reverse the land reform programme.
But the Sadc Tribunal Rights Watch yesterday poured water on Mnangagwa’s latest move, accusing him of trying to hoodwink the international community out of love for donor funds.
The watchdog trashed the Statutory Instrument that renewed hope of the while farmers who lost their land during the land reform exercise, describing it as an act of giving false hope to the farmers.
“The reality is that the new rules only apply to ‘indigenous’ farmers who lost their land during the fast-track land reform programme, or to foreign-owned farms that were theoretically protected under Bippas and bilateral investment treaties,” the grouping’s spokesperson Ben Freeth said.
“While the regulations do not define the meaning of the term ‘indigenous’, the government has consistently referred to ‘black’ Zimbabweans exclusively as ‘indigenous’ people.”
The tribunal rights watch said a significant number of the dispossessed white farmers were born in Zimbabwe and many were second, third or even fourth generation who knew no other home.
“Regrettably, this piece of misleading legislation is another attempt at window dressing to make it appear that the Zimbabwe government is going to return farms to their owners and re-establish property rights, but this is not the case,” Freeth added.
Freeth said Zimbabwean laws were largely discriminatory which will hinder Zimbabwe from securing investments from other countries.
Referring to SI 62 of 2020, Commercial Farmers’ Union director Ben Gilpin said: “This SI is an attempt by government to settle claims by Bippa protected farmers and those classified as indigenous through the offer of full or partial restitution of acquired land. It makes no provision for losses on the land or as a consequence of the acquisition.”