Zim starts paying white farmers after violent land grabs

Two decades after their farms were violently dispossessed by Robert Mugabe, white farmers are being paid back by a government-led mining house in Zimbabwe. This holds many lessons for South Africa, says political analysts Dr Ralph Mathekga and Theo Venter

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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.

Kuvimba Mining House Ltd., of which the Zimbabwean government owns 65%, transferred $1 million to farmers as part of an agreement to settle a land seizure dispute. This is the first payment to white farmers after their farmland was taken by order of the former president, Robert Mugabe.

The recent payment, however, is only a fraction of what was agreed to a year ago. The Zimbabwean government asked for a delay in paying the full $3.5 billion compensation.

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.

Theo Venter, an independent political analyst. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Theo Venter, an independent political analyst. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

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.

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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.

Dr Ralph Mathekga, Political analyst. Photo: Supplied
Dr Ralph Mathekga, Political analyst. Photo: Supplied

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.”

ALSO READ: Land expropriation: ‘Why would govt ruin agriculture?’

Mzansi already out of step

Annelize Crosby, Agri SA’s head of land and legal affairs. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Annelize Crosby, Agri SA’s head of land and legal affairs. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“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.”

“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.

ALSO READ: Annelize Crosby: ‘A butterfly in land reform boxing ring’

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