Finance Minister, Mthuli Ncube

Farmers say compensation deal comes up short

BEN Gilpin is one of hundreds of commercial farmers who has been offered government compensation for being evicted from their land and farms two decades ago, and found the plan has come up short.

Expelled from his 1 000-hectare farm during a land reform campaign led by the late former president Robert Mugabe, Gilpin, who lives in Harare, is one of many mostly white farmers seeking redress from the government after years of court action and delays.

Still, some farmers say they would reject the government’s US$3.5 billion compensation package for being inadequate financially and for paying scant regard to land restitution or restoring property rights. Compensating farmers is central to a government strategy under discussion with key creditor, the African Development Bank (AfDB), to clear historic arrears of some US$17 billion.

Farmers say the plan was agreed by the Commercial Farmers Union in July 2020 and subsequently revised without adequate consultation.

Zimbabwe intends to now pay farmers over a decade, instead of the 20 years announced three years ago, finance minister Mthuli Ncube said in February, with money raised via treasury bills. Harare has already defaulted twice on the payments, in June 2021 and June 2022. “The offer of bonds represents a very significant reduction in value with a prolonged redemption period,” Gilpin, 67, said.

“This is unacceptable and bears no relation to the original offer.” In the initial proposal, half of the US$3.5 billion was to be paid within 12 months from the day of signature, and the balance within five years.

“We want to reject this government compensation deed because it is not a proper compensation deal,” said Ben Freeth, whose father-in-law challenged Mugabe’s eviction policies at the now-disbanded SADC Tribunal and won in a 2008 judgement.

The government was continuing discussions with farmers over appropriate payment methods and time frames, Ncube said. “I am certain that we will converge pretty soon in terms of the appropriate instruments,” he told journalists on Friday. AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina, who is championing Zimbabwe’s debt clearance efforts, said paying farmers over a decade was a long time, given the age of most claimants.

“I think a front-loading farmer compensation approach is worth consideration,” he said. “The process will require careful negotiations and the implementation of strategic reforms.”— Reuters

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