Too little, too late. This is how political analysts and agricultural policy advisors in South Africa are reacting to Zimbabwe’s two-decades-late compensation payment to white farmers after violent land grabs.
Meanwhile, the neighbouring country’s land expropriation drama struck particularly close to home for land reform experts in South Africa.
Irreparable economic damage
Independent political analyst and policy specialist, Theo Venter, describes Zimbabwe’s move as “too little, too late”. He tells Food For Mzansi the damage to Zimbabwe’s economy has already been done.
“The restitution of the payment that is now taking place [after the land grabs] cannot heal the economic damage that was done 20 years. [Also,] there’s a huge amount of money allocated for restitution,” Venter explains.
Initially, farmers were meant to be compensated half of the damages agreed to by July 2021. However, the Zimbabwean government requested that it be put off for 12 months.
What should be noted, though, is that Zimbabwe is set to reap its biggest maize harvest on very little land this year. Venter reckons had the land not been grabbed decades ago, the country could have made a major contribution to food security.
“It just shows the amount of damage that was done to the economy through land grabs,” Venter states.
He adds that it is also difficult to measure just how much of Zimbabwe’s land is currently being utilised to its fullest extent.
Venter remarks that Zimbabwe has got very fertile land with huge agricultural potential. “If one were to think where Zimbabwe could have been if they utilised the land. That [in itself] is a lesson for South Africa,” he says.
Lessons to be learnt
Moreover, Venter believes that there is an important lesson for South Africa.
“Landgrabs and any form of undermining of people’s property or land, if it’s not done in a proper way which is legally sound, the damage to the economy is immeasurable,” Venter states.
Echoing his sentiments is political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga.
Mathekga tells Food For Mzansi that the damage has been done following the land grabs. Zimbabwe’s economy has suffered severely because of the political consequences of the approach followed under Mugabe’s regime.
“As South Africa, we can learn that we need to undertake the land reform within Constitutional lines, and we should do it to improve the lives of people.”
Mzansi already out of step
According to Annelize Crosby, the head of land and legal affairs at Agri SA, there is a reason why Zimbabwe finds itself in this predicament. When land expropriation is needed, it should be done in terms of international best practice.
“In the long term you won’t get away with zero compensation by just taking land because there are consequences, also in terms of pressure from by the international community and also economic consequences.”
The legal policy advisor adds that those at the helm of decision making should not forget that South Africa is part of a global economy.
“We can’t ignore the fact there are international conventions. There’s a FAO document that we often refer to that deals with compulsory acquisition and best practice for compulsory acquisition.”
One of the basic tenants of that policy is that compensation should be paid when land is taken.
“So, actually with [South Africa’s] expropriation without compensation, we are sort of out of step with international best practice and that’s not a good place to be,” Crosby states.