Zimbabwe agreed on Wednesday to pay US$3.5 billion in compensation to white farmers whose land was expropriated by the government to resettle black families. However, the Southern African nation does not have the money and will issue long-term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding, according to the compensation agreement.
Two decades ago Robert Mugabe’s government carried out at times violent evictions of 4,500 white commercial farmers and redistributed the land they had managed to roughy 300,000 black families. The government argued that it was redressing a colonial land imbalance.
The new agreement, signed in Harare on Wednesday (29 July), shows that white farmers will be compensated for infrastructure on the farms and not the land itself, in keeping with the national constitution.
Details of how much money each farmer (or their descendants, given the time elapsed since the farms were seized) was likely to get were not yet clear, but the current government, led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has said it will give priority to the elderly when making the settlements.
Farmers will receive 50% of the compensation after a year and the remainder within five years.
Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and acting Agriculture Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri signed on behalf of the government; farmers’ unions and a foreign consortium which undertook valuations also signed the agreement.
Mugabe’s signature policies
“As Zimbabweans, we have chosen to resolve this long-outstanding issue,” said Andrew Pascoe, head of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, which represented white farmers.
The land seizures were one of Mugabe’s signature policies which soured relations with the West. Mugabe, who was ousted in a coup in 2017 and died last year, accused the West of imposing sanctions on his government as punishment.
The programme still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe. Opponents see it as a partisan process that left the country struggling to feed itself, but its supporters say it has empowered landless black people.
President Mnangagwa said that land reform could not be reversed but that paying compensation is key to mending ties with the West.