afrol News, 16 November - As the Zimbabwean government yesterday surprisingly heralded a compensation scheme for the country's dispossessed and ousted white commercial farmers, this did not cause any euphoria among the latter. Commercial farmer groupings advised members to ignore the call.
Having ridiculed them and denied them rights to the lands held by them for couple of years, most of Zimbabwe's white farmers left the country. Zimbabwe that accused white farmers of land grabbing, distributed the seized farms to its landless black farmers and party veterans, whose production was below expectation.
Controversial as he is, President Robert Mugabe refused to listen to the international community and went ahead to seize 4,000 farms belonging to white farmers. The worry at the time was that this impromptu action would have negative effects on the Zimbabwean economy and shatter the living conditions of its citizens.
President Mugabe said the drastic decision was meant to fulfil the promise of his ruling ZANU-PF party in 1982, when it took over power. He said the government would never back-track its decision because it was a key reform to rectify racist structures left over in the country by the former British colonialists and settlers, who had evicted the lands' original owners. White farmers could not be left to own all valuable lands in Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe held.
Last week, President Mugabe gave 99-year land leases to black farmers, assuring them that former owners must not expect government compensation.
While 500 white farmers still decide to stay in Zimbabwe, thousands have migrated to Zambia, Mozambique and even Nigeria.
But seven years after the controversial land reform programme was effected, Zimbabwe has bowed down, for it has now announced its readiness to compensate more than 1,000 white farmers whose lands had been seized.
Zimbabwe, which was once seen as the food basket in Southern Africa, is today reeling with food shortages because lack farmers do not have the machinery and technical know-how to produce enough food for the country.
Agriculture that contributes 18.5 percent of Zimbabwe's gross domestic product and also generates 60 percent of raw materials required in the manufacturing sector collapsed drastically after the land reforms.
This allows Zimbabwe to be the country with the highest rate of inflation, which currently stands at 1,070.2 percent. Besides, thousands of people have become jobless thus reducing the operational capacity of manufacturing firms in the country.
The compensation announcement was contained in an advertisement published by the state-owned 'Herald Newspaper' in which Secretary of Lands, Ngoni Masoka asked dispossessed farmers to urgently contact her ministry.
"The schedule below summarises details of farms whose compensation has been fixed in terms of Section 29 B of the Land Acquisition Act," 'Ngoni Masoka wrote. "The former owners or representatives should contact the Ministry of Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement as a matter of urgency in connection with their compensation."
But the new invitation is yet to arouse much interest among the already wounded white farmers. "There has not been a big response from our members so far in terms of the published list," Emily Crookes, a spokeswoman for the Commercial Farmers Union [CFU] told the press recently. "Just one or two have popped in just to have a look at the list. The problem is that most of the farmers are not in the country."
The CFU spokeswoman doubted whether the government would compensate the farmers for the land or the structures on them. "I think that the government will only be paying for developments on the land. They have previously stated that payments will only be for developments and not the real value of land," she said. She said some farmers' earlier request for compensation got no response from the government.
Last October, CFU rejected the government's compensation offers of US$ 3.3 million to dispossessed farmers because it was too small. By some critics, the CFU is seen as speculating in better opportunities to get a high compensation or even rights to return in the post-Mugabe era, when Zimbabwe will be forced to improve international relations. President Mugabe has announced his retirement for early 2008.
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