THE government has made a U-turn on the acquisition of farms protected under bilateral treaties as legal battles continue to mount.
Critics also said that the move could be a response to the pending review of the sanctions imposed on President Robert Mugabe and the Zanu PF inner circle by the European Union next month.
Zimbabwe has Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (Bippas) with several countries including Germany, South Africa, Denmark, Belgium and Switzerland.
Germany Economic Co-operation and Development Federal minister Dirk Niebel last month expressed concern that the EU’s largest economy was unhappy with the existing bilateral trade agreement with Harare.
Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement minister Herbert Murerwa this week told the media that the suspension of acquisition of farms protected by Bippas was in response to mounting liabilities on the part of government.
The government was recently slapped with a $25 million demand for payment by 40 Dutch farmers after they successfully sued it at the International Court for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
“Although under Zimbabwean law government can legally acquire such farms, in view of the ongoing litigation in the ICSID we have taken the decision not to settle persons on farms covered by Bippa for now,” Murerwa was quoted as saying.
The Dutch farmers took their case to the ICSID, which ruled in 2009 that the government should compensate them for their losses, including interest.
“Government will abide by the provision of the agreement and at the same time we do not want to increase our liabilities,” Murerwa said.
A German farmer, Heinrich von Pezold also has a pending case against the government at the Washington DC-based ICSID after his farm was acquired. Von Pezolds is claiming $600 million.
Other farmers, Luke Tembani and Ben Freeth, have turned to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights seeking recourse following the disbanding of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Tribunal which denied farmers the right of access to the courts.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki in November revealed that Sadc leaders were opposed to the chaotic “revolutionary” land grabs by Mugabe and Zanu PF-sponsored war veterans, preferring instead an orderly reform process done within a legal framework. Mbeki said Sadc leaders argued at length with Mugabe over the violent land seizures which were “strategically and tactically ill-advised”.
“We were convinced and argued this with President Mugabe that, rather, Zimbabwe should indeed confront the matter of the land question, but address it through a process of reform rather than through revolutionary means,” Mbeki said.
“We understood very well that the process of the reform rather than the revolutionary transformation of the inherited colonial system of land ownership meant the Zimbabwe government and people would have to respect the principle of market-based compensation of land owners for improvements on the farms they would have to forfeit.”