White farmers welcome govt pledge for advance payments

BY NQOBANI NDLOVU/TATIRA ZWINOIRA

White former commercial farmers yesterday welcomed a pledge by government to give them advance payments for losses suffered under the land reform exercise while awaiting a full compensation package.

Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) president Ben Purcel Gilpin told NewsDay yesterday that they were happy government had recognised that many white former farmers were in hardship and that it was better to share this payment with many rather than try and settle just a few claims.

“We have advocated for this for a long time, so the move is welcome,” he said.

“We have appealed that those able to cope allow the less fortunate to get something to mitigate their situation, while solutions to the bigger problem is sought. Several hundreds have already applied.”

In a joint statement on Sunday, the Lands and Finance ministries announced the valuation figure to compensate white farmers for improvements made on farms would be done after this month.

The land reform programme was implemented in 2000 and involved government seizing mostly white-owned farms, and doling out the land to black farmers to address colonial imbalances.

The white ex-farmers have been waiting for compensation since then.

Advocacy group Sadc Tribunal Rights Watch said it was unrealistic to think that government would be ready with any kind of agreed figure for compensation by next
month.

“Each property needs to be valued individually. Values need to be fair, based on accepted international parameters — looking at comparable sales of similar properties in the region,” Sadc Tribunal Rights Watch spokesperson Ben Freeth told NewsDay.

“It must be accepted that as per the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organisation] guidelines, dispossessed people should be compensated so that they are in at least the equivalent position as before compulsory acquisition. The current ZWR$53 million in the budget for 2019 would be the equivalent of less than US$2 000 for each of the 7 000 or so title deeds that have been acquired.”

A joint statement made by the Agriculture and Finance ministries says an ad hoc compensation working group is currently working on valuating the affected farms.

The working group, comprising government officials and representatives of former farm owners, is tasked with coming up with computations and establishing the compensation figure for farm improvements based on an agreed method of valuation.

In the 2019 National Budget, government promised to compensate all former farmers affected by the land reform programme in accordance with the country’s laws and commitments under the various bilateral agreements.

To that effect, government announced in the budget that it was engaging international financial institutions and other stakeholders in exploring various sustainable options for mobilising the requisite compensation resources.

“We were told a similar story this time last year: That compensation would be sorted out by September 2018. We have learnt not to take these kinds of promises by government very seriously,” Freeth said.

He said as of now, they did not know how many farmers would be accommodated by the compensation programme.

Freeth, together with his father-in-law Mike Campbell, rose to international prominence for suing former President Robert Mugabe at the Sadc Tribunal Court for violating the law and human rights during their eviction from their farms.

The Sadc Tribunal Court received the case between 2007 and 2010, during which several rulings were made, mostly in favour of the former farm owners.

This was after the farmers failed to contest the matter in the Zimbabwean courts.

Under section 295 of the Constitution, white farmers are only allowed compensation from the State for improvements made to the land following acquisition.

The estimated cost of paying the compensation hovers around US$30 billion.

Local economist John Robertson is on record stating that farm land had a “collateral value of billions of dollars that translated into all the security needed for the biggest loan portfolio in the country”.

In February, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said the process of modifying 99-year leases for farm land to be bankable instruments needed to be brought to finality so as to unlock funding to the agriculture sector and make it more productive.

What has made it difficult to bring the issue to finality is that many of the beneficiaries of the land reform programme have been allegedly linked to the ruling party, Zanu PF.

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