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Twenty years ago the former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe authorised the violent invasion of many white-owned farms with his land reform programme, which he justified on the grounds that it was redressing imbalances of the colonial era. Many hard-working white farmers were forced off their land, which was in turn handed out to government cronies. The Zimbabwean government stole people’s livelihoods, brutalised thousands and even killed many people in the rush to grab land. At the end of 2017, many hoped that Zimbabwe would have a chance to start over when Mugabe resigned – ending his almost four decade long tyrannical rule. Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, confirmed – in his inaugural address – that land reform was both historically necessary and irreversible and promised compensation to white farmers who lost their land during the disastrous expropriation of land by his predecessor. The white farmers are reportedly owed US$9bn in compensation for improvements made on the farms before they were expropriated. There were no real winners from the land grabs, except for the politically connected. In March, Mnangagwa decided to offer an olive branch to the white owners of 4,500 farms that had been seized, and said he would settle all outstanding claims against the government by offering them land. While this compensation deal certainly feels like a step in the right direction, it will never come close to compensating those Zimbabwean farmers for the brutal pain inflicted upon them two decades ago. – Nadya Swart
Zimbabwe signs $3.5bn compensation deal with white farmers
By Godfrey Marawanyika and Ray Ndlovu
(Bloomberg) — Zimbabwe’s government signed a $3.5 billion deal to compensate white commercial farmers who were evicted from their land two decades ago. The agreement is a turning point in a dispute that tipped the southern African nation’s economy into freefall by slashing food production and export income, and incurred sanctions from the U.S. and European Union.
“Today marks a huge milestone,” Andrew Pascoe, president of the Commercial Farmers Union that represents the white farmers, said Wednesday at a signing ceremony in the capital, Harare. “As Zimbabweans, we have chosen to resolve this long-outstanding issue.”
It’s unclear how the compensation will be funded, at a time when Zimbabwe is in the midst of an economic crisis. The country is battling inflation of more than 700% and dealing with shortages of currency, fuel and food with over 90% of the population out of formal employment.
A committee has been formed by the government, farmers and donors to raise funding for the compensation, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said at the ceremony.
Zimbabwe has endured intermittent food shortages since the government began the often-violent program that seized most white-owned, large-scale farms from 2000. Zimbabwe’s rulers maintain that the land was taken forcibly during colonial times and needed to be returned to Black residents.
The compensation agreement is for improvements and assets on the more than 4,000 farms that were seized and doesn’t pertain to the land itself, Ben Gilpin, a director of the CFU, said earlier this month.“This momentous event is historic,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa said at the ceremony. “It brings closure and a new beginning.”
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