Zimbabwe said on Tuesday that only foreign white farmers protected by international investment treaties qualified to retrieve land seized by the government two decades ago.
On Monday, the government announced foreign white farmers settled in Zimbabwe whose land was seized under former President Robert Mugabe can apply to get it back and will be offered land elsewhere if restitution proves impractical.
Information ministry secretary and government spokesman Nick Mangwana clarified in a tweet on Tuesday the offer did not apply to all evicted white farmers, but only to about 37 foreign farmers who benefit from special protection.
“Some of the previous owners had already been compensated from the previous government. For example, the Dutch farmers were being paid over the years,” Mangwana said. “They may get that land or replacement land elsewhere instead of compensation.”
Mugabe launched land reforms in 2000, grabbing parcels from 4,000 white farmers on the grounds that he was reversing historical land ownership imbalances that favoured the minority whites.
Last month, Zimbabwe agreed to pay $3.5bn in compensation to local white farmers whose land was forcibly taken by the government to resettle Black families, moving a step closer to resolving one the most divisive policies of the Robert Mugabe era.
Under Zimbabwean laws passed during a short period of opposition government but ignored by Mugabe, foreign white farmers protected by treaties between their governments and Zimbabwe should be compensated for both land and other assets.
In that regard, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and Lands and Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka said in a joint statement these farmers should apply for their land back.
That means, in some instances, the government would “revoke the offer letters of resettled [Black] farmers currently occupying those pieces of land and offer them alternative land elsewhere”, the ministers said.
But removing the Black beneficiaries from the land could prove practically and politically difficult.
“Where the situation presently obtaining on the ground makes it impractical to restore land in this category to its former owners, government will offer the former farm owners alternative land elsewhere as restitution where such land is available,” the statement said.
The ministers said other white farmers, whose land had been earmarked for acquisition by the government but were still on the properties, can apply to lease the land for 99 years, just like their Black counterparts.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said the land reform could not be reversed but paying of compensation was key to mending ties with the West.
The programme still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe, where the number of white farmers has dropped to about 200 from 4,500 when land reforms began 20 years ago, according to the predominantly white commercial farmers union.
Opponents see the reforms as a partisan process that left the country struggling to feed itself, but its supporters say it has empowered landless Black people.
Mugabe, who died in September 2019, had promised the land reforms would not be reversed.