Harare – Zimbabwe’s traumatic 16-year long land grab is over, according to the country’s Minister of Lands, Douglas Mombeshora.
Briefing Zimbabwe state press last week, Mombeshora said more then 14 million hectares of farmland had been taken from whites in the last 15 years and was distributed to more then 300 000 families. He said that only 900 000 hectares remained and most of that was forests which needed protection.
About 4 000 white farmers lost their homes, land, and even personal possessions – without compensation – during 15 years of sometimes violent invasions, and the economy, so dependent on commercial agriculture, crashed after agricultural exports dried up.
“Now that we are almost done with redistribution, the focus now will now be on those we have given the land to, to see if they are using it in the right way, otherwise they risk losing it,” Mombeshora said.
There are still a few land invasions continuing, but Mombeshora’s officials indicate that these, including the recent seizure of a dairy near Harare and a chicken farm near Masvingo, were not approved by the ministry.
“One of our major targets this year is the establishment of the Land Commission. This is a constitutional requirement and we are going to expedite efforts to ensure that it is established this year,” he said.
According to Mombeshora, one of the major tasks of the Commission would be to conduct a land audit, which would, in theory, establish who had taken what land.
Those with more than one farm would have to give up the extra land. The Mugabe family, in particular first lady Grace Mugabe, reportedly owns several farms which were taken from whites since 2000.
Vast swathes of land taken from white farmers, mainly in the cropping provinces, lies idle and Zimbabwe has not been able to fully feed itself since the land grab began.
The government says it was also going to charge rentals on land handed out since 2000. Mombeshora said the government would not hesitate to evict farmers who resisted paying rentals, to make way for those on the waiting list. He also said some of the money collected from “new farmers” would be used to pay evicted white farmers for “improvements” to their land.
This could cost billions of rands. Most farms taken from white farmers had massive capital developments on them. Mombeshora repeated his government’s position that Britain, the former colonial power, must pay for the land taken from white farmers which Harare valuators say is a tiny amount in comparison to the bill for improvements as Zimbabwe had a sophisticated commercial agricultural sector which provided almost half of foreign earnings until the land grab began.
Late last year Mombeshora first said the government’s land acquisition programme was complete, but the Commercial Farmers’ Union said it was still receiving frequent reports of incidents and disturbances from the 300 or so white farmers who remain on a portion of their original landholdings.
There are also some squabbles about land among the “beneficiaries”. But insiders have said that the Zimbabwe government now fully understands that for the sake of the economy land invasions must end and it must find a way of compensating white farmers and getting rid of the unproductive “beneficiaries” of the land.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and several foreign governments are now asking why it has not delivered the promise of its own constitution which has said since 1992 that the government must pay for the “improvements” which white farmers made to the farms which were redistributed.
It also says Britain must pay for the land itself, which is the smaller part of the sum.-AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY