Britain will not fund Zimbabwe’s land reform programme or compensate farmers who lost their properties during the farm invasions because it was tantamount to theft as it had enriched the Zanu PF elite instead of the intended masses.
In an interview with NewsDay, British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Deborah Bronnert said her government accepted that patterns of land ownership in Zimbabwe had to change and was committed to supporting “a credible” land reform programme which would play a crucial part in economic growth, but the current programme had enriched the political elite and not ordinary people.
“We have never agreed to accept responsibility for compensation, but we did in the 1980s provide £44 million to support land transfers – now £3 million of that facility was never taken up by the Zimbabwean government, but £41 million was. We stopped the funding in the 1990s when it was clear that land was being taken by force and handed to the Zanu PF elite,” she said.
“Much of it, of course, as a matter of record, was stripped of value rather than put to productive use. That was not reform. It was criminal theft. It enriched the elite, but provided no benefit to ordinary Zimbabweans.”
Citing the example of a Beatrice farmer who was recently evicted along with 450 workers, Bronnert said Britain was concerned about the continuation of farm invasions “which contravene the Sadc ruling of November 2008 and the terms of the GPA and demonstrate a lack of respect for the rule of law”.
“The farm has been looted and is now vacant. I can’t see how this can be characterised as ‘land reform’ – people have been made jobless and homeless and economic value has been destroyed. And how can this possibly benefit ordinary people of Zimbabwe?” she queried.
“Events like this deter investors, reduce employment, increase homelessness and destroy production just when Zimbabwe wants to rebuild its economy.”
Parties in the inclusive government agreed to “call upon the UK to accept the primary responsibility to pay compensation for land acquired from former landowners for resettlement”.
In 1979 Zimbabwean whites, although making up less than 1% of the population, owned more than 60% of the arable land.
During the first 10 years of independence it was agreed land reform would be acquired on a willing-buyer, willing seller basis.
However, in 1997, British former Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short announced Britain had no special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe.
She stated her government was only prepared to support a programme of land reform that was part of a poverty eradication strategy. She questioned how the land would be acquired and compensation paid, and the transparency of the process.
In retaliation, Zimbabwe embarked on the so-called fast-track land reform programme in 2000 forcibly taking farms from whites.
President Robert Mugabe has accused Britain of backtracking on its pledge to fund the land reform programme and insists Harare will not compensate white commercial farmers displaced by the exercise.