Local authorities, hurting from low revenue collection, have set themselves up for a clash with Zanu PF supporters by demanding land tax from resettled farmers, most of whom are failing to use the land productively.
Many farmers feel that they are not obliged to pay tax as they consider this to be a colonial relic. As a result, rural district councils have been struggling to collect land tax from the new farmers who are struggling to raise the requisite amounts or have not commenced farming since the allocation of the land.
Farmers are supposed to pay the tax annually in September but many have defaulted. Local authorities have threatened to hand over defaulters to the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement which should repossess the farms but appear powerless to do so as defaulters include senior government and party officials.
War veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda said farmers should pay the necessary levies and ensure that the land they had been given were productively utilised.
However quizzed on threats by councils to repossess pieces of land from farmers that failed to pay the levies, Sibanda said:
“Before the farms can be repossessed, the responsible authorities would have to establish the reasons why people have not been paying the levies all along.”
Councils have placed advertisements in the press imploring the farmers to pay up.
On Monday Manyame Rural District Council (RDC) issued an ultimatum to hundreds of A1 and A2 farmers to settle their annual farm levies or risk losing their farms.
The move by the local authority places many farmers resettled under the government’s fast-track land reform programme at risk of losing their farming plots.
According to government over 300 000 peasant farmers were resettled under the A1 and A2 resettlement scheme, which saw the bulk of the land being taken away from former white farmers throughout the country for re-allocation to indigenous Zimbabweans under controversial circumstances.
The threat by the local authority affects the thousands of beneficiaries, who were under obligation to pay farm levies to the local authorities, failure which the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement would repossess the farms.
A2 model farms were expected to engage in commercial farming while A1 model farms were smallholder plots on self-contained units.
Manyame covers commercial farms around Beatrice and surrounding farming areas in Harare South.
NewsDay could not ascertain the number of defaulters as Manyame RDC chief executive officer was said to be out of office on Monday.
It was however established that both A1 and A2 farmers were expected to pay $3 per hectare annually.
On average A1 farmers were allocated 10-15 hectares while A2 farms range from 15 hectares upwards.
“For further details you will have to book an appointment with the chief executive,” said a council official.
In a statement the council gave the farmers up to January 31 or face severe consequences.
“Manyame Rural District Council wishes to advise individual farms under land reform that they are required to pay land development levies per annum in terms of Section 96 of the Rural District Act chapter 29:13,” Manyame RDC said.
“The beneficiaries are advised to call at our council offices and collect their invoices. Please be warned that failure to pay levies to council may result in council advising the Ministry of Lands to repossess the farms.”
Section 96 of the Rural District Act, which makes it a requirement that land levies be paid in rural areas, states in part: “. . . if a person is liable to a land development levy by virtue of being an owner referred to in paragraph (b) of the definition of “owner” in Section 95, the council may impose the land development levy either on the person referred to in paragraph (a) of that definition or on the person referred to in paragraph (b) thereof but not on both.
Presenting his 2011 National Budget last year, Finance minister Tendai Biti said the issue of security of tenure in the country remained critical.
He said resolution of this matter was required as a precondition to normal private financing of agriculture, as well as the return of a land market.
“Whatever tenure system is chosen, it must surely provide for security, must be registrable, executable and must be transferable,” said Biti.
“At the present moment, the Ministry of Lands and the Ministry of Justice are working on a registrable and executable 99-year lease to be protected by an Act of Parliament.
“For this lease to be effective land surveys and demarcation of boundaries is necessary,” Biti said.