White farmers in Zimbabwe have said they are are relieved and “at peace” after president Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government said it would end land invasions and offer them longer leases for their farms.
Mr Mnangagwa, who came to power after a soft coup d’etat last November, gave orders earlier this month to grant the estimated 200 to 300 remaining white farmers in the country 99-year leases for their land.
A government letter, dated January 3 but published only on Wednesday, said: “Please be informed that the Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement has directed that all remaining white farmers be issued 99-year leases instead of the five-year leases as per the previous arrangement.”
Darryn Smart, centre, was allowed to return to his farm in December in what was widely seen as a signal Mr Mnangagwa wanted to settle the land issue.
Darryn Smart, centre, was allowed to return to his farm in December in what was widely seen as a signal Mr Mnangagwa wanted to settle the land issue. CREDIT: FARAI MUTSAKA/AP
The move is intended to draw a line under a violent and controversial process of “land reform” launched by Robert Mugabe, Mr Mnangagwa’s predecessor, in the early 2000s.
The often violent land grab, which saw more then a dozen white farmers killed and more then 4000 of them kicked off their properties, proved disastrous for Zimbabwe’s heavily agricultural economy.
Most land taken from white farmers was given to senior Zanu PF politicians, civil servants, and party loyalists. About two million people may now be working or living on land taken from white farmers.
Peter Steyl, president of the Commercial Farmers Union, said Mr Mnangagwa had done what he said he would when he was sworn in on November 24.
“This is a real step forward, so we are pleased, but there is a lot that needs fixing on the land, such as dams which are silted up. We will help wherever we can,” he said.
A surviving white farmer who asked not to be named said: “I only have a quarter of my farm left. But I am at peace that we will now be left alone. We don’t yet know what is in those leases, but I am feeling confident about the future.”
Nearly all of the remaining white farmers in Zimbabwe occupy only small portions of their original landholding. Most are growing tobacco, one of Zimbabwe’s top export earners.
It is unclear whether the extended leases will be followed by compensation for the evictions.
While Mr Mnangagwa has frequently said the land grab is “irreversible,” he has also repeatedly said he wants to pay compensation as spelled out in Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution.
Collectively, white farmers were forced to abandon more then 17 million acres of land as well as equipment, personal possessions, and livestock.
Many of them have drawn up detailed audited claims in the hoped of one day winning compensation. The total value of the claims is estimated to be about £6 billion, including for land and “improvements.”