HomeOpinion & AnalysisMr President, those who benefited should compensate

Mr President, those who benefited should compensate

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DEAR Mr President,

Your Excellency, I would like to applaud you and the government of Zimbabwe for walking the talk in as far as compensating former commercial farmers displaced during the violent land redistribution of the early 2000s.

The compensation is enshrined in the country’s governance charter — the  Constitution adopted in 2013.

To refresh your mind, Your Excellency, two decades ago, the Zanu PF regime carried out violent evictions of white commercial farmers and redistributed the land to black families. It was and still is a noble idea to redistribute land to the landless who require it  across the country.

While I agree that the programme was meant to address land imbalances of the colonial era, its execution left a lot to be desired. It’s the lack of transparency, subsequent inconsistencies over the nature of the scheme and the patently unfair and inequitable distribution that predominantly favoured a selected political elite that has given rise to suspicion of plunder.

The land reform was in no doubt partisan and left the country struggling to feed itself. It should have been executed with finesse without disturbing the agricultural industry and by extension the country’s economy. Many lives were also lost.

Your Excellency, I understand that the government has started compensating thousands of white farmers who lost their supposed land under the late former President Robert Mugabe’s leadership, as it seeks to bring closure to a highly divisive issue.

Your Excellency, the setting aside of $53 million by government as advance payment for farm improvements to white former commercial farmers is a commendable development.

This was a huge step forward by your government in acknowledging that the compensation owed to the white farmers affected by the inevitable land reform programme was necessary, following many years of inaction.

Your Excellency, this was a masterstroke by government and will go a long way in boosting your re-engagement efforts as the new dispensation.

It is sad some of the recipients are now in financial distress as they are too old and no longer able to fend for themselves. I hope that the government is only compensating for farm improvements undertaken by the former white farmers on the pieces of land and not for the actual land as it rightfully belongs to Zimbabweans.

In 2020, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said Zimbabwe planned to raise the compensation funds through international donors and long-term bonds with the aim of completing payouts in five years.

There is everything wrong with borrowing funds to compensate the former farmers. This debt will result in an increase in Zimbabwe’s arduous public debt, which is currently around US$10 billion, if not more.

A huge public debt usually triggers an increase in interest and tax rates, resulting in inflation, which may lead to increased volatility and lower growth rates.

The land reform programme was criticised for being elitist and nepotistic in nature, so the government should have carried out a land audit to ascertain who got what and where? There are reports that some politically-exposed individuals or families have multiple farms. As it stands, the identity of the beneficiaries are not known.

It is not surprising that the majority were Zanu PF politicians, who have created what scholars Acemoglu and Robinson called extractive institutions in their seminal book, Why Nations Fail.

Get me right, Your Excellency, my point is that flighting bonds to compensate the white former farmers will place a burden on the fiscus and by extension the rest of the population and future generations.

In that case surely, it is in the national interest that the beneficiaries of the programme compensate the ex-farmers because they are the ones who benefited from the improvements on the farms they seized, which did not benefit the nation immediately.

Your Excellency, more than two decades after the land seizures, Zimbabwe is in a far worse state economically, so why should poor Zimbabweans pay a debt incurred by the elite who benefited under that scheme? Those who benefited from this hideous programme must compensate the farmers. At the very least, Zimbabweans want to know the identity of these beneficiaries.

Your Excellency, this information is in the public interest, particularly as transparency, openness and accountability are core values of our Constitution. Those who got public goods must account for them. Whenever the State places a burden on citizens, it must account to them. Transparency and accountability are the bedrock of good governance.

The sooner the beneficiaries know that they are liable for compensation, they will be productive which is good for them and the economy.

Thank you for your time, Your Excellency!

  • Cliff Chiduku is a journalist, studying for a MSc in Public Policy and Governance (UZ). He writes here in his personal capacity. Feedback: cchiduku@gmail.com, Twitter: @ChifChiduku

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