The Sunday Mail
Government has taken a bold step to tackle the emotive issue of compensation for developments on farms taken over under the fast-track land reform exercise.
In a notice jointly released last weekend, the Ministers of Lands and Finance announced that Government had begun negotiations with white farmers on steps to be taken towards compensation for improvements on the resettled farms.
Predictably, debate around the issue has taken a life of its own.
Despite the term “farm improvements” appearing at least four times in the statement by Ministers Shiri and Ncube, there have been screams that President Emmerson Mnangagwa is “selling out” by “compensating farmers for land they stole”.
The facts, for those that are interested in them, are clear.
Firstly, Zimbabwe is not paying white farmers for the land.
Compensation parameters are enshrined in the Constitution, a charter agreed on by a cross section of Zimbabwean political parties and overwhelmingly voted for by citizens in the 2013 referendum.
If Government takes over a farm owned by an “indigenous Zimbabwean”, it must pay for the land and other assets. Likewise, if it takes over land protected under a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (Bippas), it must also pay for the land.
However, for land taken from white farmers, the Constitution is clear: white farmers are only “entitled to compensation from the State only for improvements that were on the land when it was acquired”.
This is what is being implemented. It is the law. A President is not a “sell out” because he is upholding his country’s Constitution. He is, in fact, doing what he swore to do. Secondly, Zimbabwe will not spend taxpayer money to fund the improvements compensation bill, which has been set provisionally by the farmers at around US$10 billion. The statement by the ministers leaves no doubt as to this, saying: “Consultations on sustainable options for mobilising the requisite compensation resources are being explored in conjunction with the international financial institutions and other stakeholders.”
In essence, the spirit of Lancaster House prevails. Thirdly, this is a debate that sadly has been subordinated to our narrow politics. Listening to members of the opposition bash the President for following the Constitution on compensation for improvements, one would think their own leadership have a wildly superior plan.
They most certainly do not.
In an interview with the SABC ahead of the July 30 elections last year, Nelson Chamisa told Sophie Mokoena that he would, in fact, compensate farmers not just for improvements, as the Government is doing, but for the land itself.
“The compensation of the former white farmers (sic) is an issue that has always come in the context of property rights, in the context of the rule of law, in the context of good governance. So we need to do it, as an obligation, as a necessity.”
A reading of the MDC’s manifesto reveals talks of title deeds and returning commercial value to property. We know what this really means. In this world of duplicity, however, one would not think that it is ED that is following the law, while the opposition that is accusing him of selling out are the ones that want to break it.
When including land, farmers want US$30 billion as compensation.
Not even their friend (Donald)Trump has that kind of money.
Again, Government is not compensating white farmers for the land. It was never a consideration. It is not now.
As the farmers themselves said in a statement released simultaneously with that of Government, this move “came after years of inaction on the compensation front”.
Instead of cheap politics, this is a time for hard realities and practical decisions.
This is a Government that respects property rights. But it is also one that is unshaken in its views on the bloody history of our struggle for land, and the need for restitution. These two realisations need not be in conflict, as ED is proving.
The outcome of these two realities is what we have now: compensation for land improvements as demanded by our Constitution, paid for by innovative structures that do not punish our people.