Zimbabwe agreed on Wednesday to pay $3.5bn in compensation to white farmers whose land was expropriated by the government to resettle Black families, moving a step closer to resolving one the most divisive policies of the Robert Mugabe era.
But the southern African nation does not have the money and will issue long-term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding, according to the compensation agreement.
Two decades ago Mugabe’s government carried out at times violent evictions of 4,500 white farmers and redistributed the land to about 300,000 Black families, arguing it was redressing colonial land imbalances.
The agreement signed at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s State House offices in the capital Harare showed white farmers would be compensated for infrastructure on the farms and not the land itself, as per the national constitution.
Mnangagwa said the Wednesday deal was “historic in many respects”.
“It brings closure and a new beginning in the history of the land discourse in Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa said.
“The process which has brought us to this event is equally historic as it is a reaffirmation of the irreversibility of land as well as a symbol of our commitment to constitutionalism, the respect of the rule of law and property rights,” he said.
Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said at the signing ceremony: “In the agreement we have given ourselves 12 months to run around the world, around Zimbabwe to think of ways of raising this funding. We are determined that we achieve that. It’s also about pledges not necessarily about cash being put on the table. It’s about commitment.”
Details of how much money each farmer or their descendants, given the time elapsed since the farms were seized, was likely to get were not yet clear, but the government has said it would prioritise the elderly when making the settlements.
Farmers would receive 50 percent of the compensation after a year and the balance within five years.
Ncube and acting Agriculture Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri signed on behalf of the government, while the farmers’ unions and a foreign consortium that undertook valuations also penned the agreement.
The land seizures were one of Mugabe’s signature policies that soured ties with the West. Mugabe, who was deposed in a coup in 2017 and died last year, accused the West of imposing sanctions on his government as punishment.
The programme still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe as opponents see it as a partisan process that left the country struggling to feed itself. But its supporters say it has empowered landless Black people.
Mnangagwa said the land reform could not be reversed, but paying of compensation was key to mending ties with the West.
Zimbabwe launched controversial land reforms in the year 2000 when ruling ZANU-PF party activists and veterans of the 1970s liberation seized large swathes of farms.
Mugabe justified the land grabs as a way to correct historical wrongs by claiming back land that was forcibly taken from the nation’s Blacks.
Critics blame Mugabe’s land programme for wreaking havoc on the agriculture sector – a mainstay of the economy. Economic output fell by half following the land seizures, and the economy has been hobbled ever since.
A lot of blacks are gonna be really angry when they hear about this.
They see it as land that was “stolen.” But the “stolen land” meme is really just crap, in every instance. People move around, people fight wars, different populations end up in different places.
Virtually all the land in central, eastern and southern Africa that these Bantus live in today used to be inhabited by other sub-Saharan populations, primarily Khoi-San, Pygmies and Nilotics, and possibly some other groups whose remains were never discovered by the white man’s archaeological juju.
It’s not like they’re treating them any better today, especially the Pygmies, who are systematically enslaved and also considered a delicacy in many parts of Bantu-inhabited Africa.
You’ve never seen a Bantu lose sleep over this, have you?
Imagine where we’d be today if we’d still have such a healthy mindset, where we’re not only proud of our ancestors’ victories over foreigners, but also wish to emulate them.