Zimbabwe plans to start compensating mainly white farmers who lost their land and livelihoods during state-backed farm invasions that began in 2000 and triggered a near decade-long recession, the finance ministry has told MPs in a circular.
Farmers may be compensated for “both land and improvements”, as well as for equipment taken by the state during the often violent seizure of property, according to the document that was submitted to parliament on Tuesday.
If approved by the government, it would mark a major policy shift. President Robert Mugabe previously said payments would be made only for infrastructure investment such as dams, roads and buildings on seized farms.
The ministry’s plan to set up a lands compensation fund comes as the government seeks to mend ties with the IMF and Western donors, and kick-start growth in an economy half the size it was in 2000.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has said Zimbabwe will pay lenders such as the IMF, World Bank and the African Development Bank about $1.8-billion in debt in the hope that the IMF will resume lending this year.
“This may be the result of pressure, not just locally but also internationally,” said Willie Spies, legal representative for South African civil rights group AfriForum, which won a lawsuit last year to expropriate Zimbabwean government property in South Africa to compensate farmers whose land was seized.
Mugabe previously maintained farmers would not be compensated because land had been stolen from the black majority during colonial rule. Invasions decimated tobacco production, once Zimbabwe’s biggest export, and caused famine in Africa’s once second-largest maize exporter.
The lands compensation fund will be financed by rents and levies on new occupants of the former large-scale farms, “development partners” and donations, the finance ministry said.
Mugabe was fully supportive of the re-engagement with foreign creditors, Chinamasa said during a visit by an IMF delegation. The ageing leader had harangued the IMF and the World Bank since international lenders froze lending to Zimbabwe following defaults in 1999. But Chinamasa said Mugabe now supported talks. The country will sharply reduce its public-sector wage bill and improve fiscal discipline, he said.
Zimbabwe’s economy is reeling from one of its worst droughts on record and a fall in commodity prices, with growth expected to reach 1.4% this year, from 1.1% in 2015, the IMF says.