During the Robert Mugabe era, thousands of commercial farms in Zimbabwe were seized from white farmers and redistributed to Black farmers. The July reparation deal is for development of the land – irrigation, buildings and dams – not the land itself – and amounts to $3.5 billion.
Even though Zimbabwe does not currently have the funds, Ben Gilpin, a director at the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, is hopeful.
“Given that the average age of farmers when they lost their property was 55, and it’s nearly 20 years on, you can see that many are no longer able to work, so they have exhausted their resources. So, it will be a relief to them that there is possibility of closure. With luck it will unlock some challenges facing the country.”
The union represented 4,500 white farmers forced off their land during reforms that were meant to correct colonial-era land seizures. But when the land was redistributed, production plunged, sending Zimbabwe’s economy into a tailspin from which it never recovered.
That’s partly because of a lack of experience of the new farmers, experts say.
David Donnoly is one of the few white farmers who were not affected by Zimbabwe’s land reform, and he is against the reparation deal.
“Land is one of Zimbabwe’s greatest assets,” Donnoly said. “It’s an asset that cannot be externalized, but it’s an asset that can be collateralized and become bankable. This [reparation deal] does not allow that to happen.”
He continued: “We have seen in the last couple of years, because the land is not bankable, government has had to come with huge subsidies. And all of them have been a failure because that money is not recoverable, because the land is dead capital.”
Donnoly wants the deal to allow resettled farmers to have land titles. He says that will allow them to get funding from the commercial market and help the government raise money to pay displaced farmers. He said that would be better than continual assistance, which now runs into billions of dollars, since the land reform started in 2000.
Mthuli Ncube, finance minister, says the intention is that the deal will bring back foreign investment that fled the country when the properties were seized. And he is concerned about the farmers.
“It’s very important that the issue should be resolved. It’s an issue, in a sense, that triggered the kind of negative sentiments that we have received from some global partners. That needs to be resolved. It’s not a normal situation.”
Ncube says Zimbabwe plans to raise the compensation for white farmers through international donors and a long-term bond with the aim of completing payouts in five years.
He says if they can’t raise the reparation money in time, the government will simply reschedule the payments.