Zim­babwe farm­ers pin hope on com­pen­sa­tion

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Brian van Bu­uren, a white for­mer farmer in Burma Val­ley, east­ern Zim­babwe, couldn’t hide his anger as he re­called how he lost al­most ev­ery­thing dur­ing the coun­try’s con­tro­ver­sial land re­forms. Af­ter in­vest­ing most of his money in his to­bacco farm, van Bu­uren was left al­most desti­tute when his land was seized by the govern­ment in 2010. “I lost vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing,” van Bu­uren, 80, told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. To­day, he is one of count­less evicted elderly white landown­ers strug­gling to make ends meet as they wait for com­pen­sa­tion that many fear may never come - since the black farm­ers ex­pected to stump up the cash say they don’t have it.

In 2001, Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe in­tro­duced laws to more eq­ui­tably dis­trib­ute land be­tween black sub­sis­tence farm­ers and white Zim­bab­weans of Euro­pean an­ces­try. The re­forms were aimed at ad­dress­ing colo­nial im­bal­ances in which a small num­ber of white farm­ers owned most of the best agri­cul­tural land in Zim­babwe. Ear­lier this year, the govern­ment pledged to com­pen­sate all farm­ers who lost their farms dur­ing the land re­form pro­gram, in which about 5,000 white farm­ers were evicted from their land in of­ten vi­o­lent strug­gles, and at least 12 peo­ple died.

The vi­o­lence and al­le­ga­tions of rigged elec­tions and rights abuses - all de­nied by Mu­gabe - led to Western sanc­tions. The sanc­tions com­pounded an eco­nomic cri­sis that had wors­ened since the World Bank, In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund and African Devel­op­ment Bank sus­pended aid in 1999, af­ter Zim­babwe de­faulted on debts. The coun­try’s new con­sti­tu­tion, adopted in 2013, in­cluded a pro­vi­sion to com­pen­sate the white farm­ers who were evicted, par­tic­u­larly for the im­prove­ments they had made on their farms.

In Septem­ber, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Patrick Chi­na­masa said the govern­ment had paid $42.7 mil­lion to farm­ers in com­pen­sa­tion. “The govern­ment has taken a big step to­wards com­pen­sa­tion of pre­vi­ous farm­ers,” he said. “The govern­ment is ex­pe­dit­ing the map­ping and val­u­a­tion of im­prove­ments on farms ac­quired un­der the land re­form pro­gramme so it can com­pen­sate the farm­ers.”

Chi­na­masa said land rentals and levies paid by the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the land re­forms would be used to com­pen­sate the white farm­ers. Part of the $42.7 mil­lion com­pen­sa­tion had come from these funds, he said. But to­day, many of the black farm­ers ex­pected to fund the com­pen­sa­tion through levies and taxes say they sim­ply don’t have the money, thereby de­lay­ing the whole process. Very few had farm­ing skills when the govern­ment re­set­tled them, say ex­perts, and can now barely make ends meet, let alone pay ex­tra levies.

The new farm­ers’ agri­cul­tural out­put is now a frac­tion of the level seen be­fore 2000 when Mu­gabe in­tro­duced the land re­form. They are also be­ing ham­mered by Zim­babwe’s worst drought in a quar­ter of a cen­tury while also toil­ing un­der a stag­nat­ing econ­omy that has seen banks re­luc­tant to lend and cheaper food im­ports from the likes of South Africa un­der­min­ing lo­cal busi­nesses. Ac­cord­ing to the Zim­babwe Farm­ers Union, a group of mostly black farm­ers, com­pen­sa­tion for the white farm­ers must re­late to land devel­op­ment and as­sets, not the land it­self.

The ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Paul Zakariya, said com­pen­sa­tion for the land would be “un­con­sti­tu­tional as it be­longs to the state”. “The new (black) farm­ers must be levied and this levy should used to pay the white farm­ers. We don’t want ev­ery­one in the coun­try to be taxed and the money used to pay the white farm­ers but we want those who ben­e­fited from the land re­form to be levied”. That the re­dis­tributed lands and farms are ly­ing un­used or aban­doned is a par­tic­u­larly cruel irony for for­mer farm­ers like van Bu­uren who put ev­ery­thing into their land, they say.

Hav­ing bought the farm in Man­i­ca­land prov­ince back in 1964, van Bu­uren turned it into a suc­cess­ful to­bacco farm­ing en­tity and later di­ver­si­fied into ba­nana farm­ing with a lo­cal com­pany. Over the years, he in­vested in irrigation equip­ment, to­bacco barns, fruit trees, trac­tors and two dams, as well as other in­fra­struc­ture and ma­chin­ery all of which were seized. “They took all my equip­ment and I only re­cov­ered two ve­hi­cles and a bit of fur­ni­ture,” he said.

Although he now owns and lives in a mod­est house in Mutare city, he fears for the fu­ture as his sav­ings have run out. “I had very few sav­ings as I had in­vested all the money in the farm. We are now strug­gling to sur­vive. I am wor­ried. We just sit here. We can’t af­ford to go any­where,” he said. Ac­cord­ing to van Bu­uren, all 12 white farm­ers in the Burma Val­ley area lost their land in the re­form pro­gram. “Many farm­ers are now desti­tute,” he said.

Glim­mer of Hope

His sen­ti­ments were echoed by an­other farmer, Pi­eter de Klerk, who had to give up Kon­dozi Farm, a thriv­ing hor­ti­cul­tural ex­port en­tity in Odzi, also in Man­i­ca­land prov­ince. One of de Klerk’s sons, who also lost his land in Zim­babwe, has re-estab­lished him­self as a cas­sava farmer in Tan­za­nia. “My chil­dren are now sus­tain­ing me,” de Klerk said. “It took me 50 years to build that place but all is gone.” An­other farmer, Schalk du Pless, said: “We are now sup­ported by our chil­dren. Had it not been for that, we could have been dead.”

Du Pless and de Klerk, both in their eight­ies, live at a home for the elderly in Mutare. They are among many white for­mer farm­ers of their gen­er­a­tion who are strug­gling, said Mutare’s for­mer mayor Brian James, whose own farm was seized. “Some are desti­tute, par­tic­u­larly the elderly. Some (farm­ers) are des­per­ately look­ing for jobs. Oth­ers have left the coun­try,” James said.

How­ever, with Zim­babwe’s un­em­ploy­ment stand­ing at more than 80 per­cent, the chances of for­mer farm­ers who are still able to work find­ing em­ploy­ment are slim. While some fear the cash-strapped govern­ment won’t be able to com­pen­sate all of them, oth­ers want to see a glim­mer of hope. Van Bu­uren said his farm, which he says had a value of al­most $1 mil­lion, could still pro­vide him with enough money for his re­tire­ment if the govern­ment pays com­pen­sa­tion. “Even given an op­por­tu­nity to go back on my farm, at my age I couldn’t do it ... but I can have some com­pen­sa­tion,” he said. But with no sign that com­pen­sa­tion will be paid soon, van Bu­uren fears he might die be­fore re­ceiv­ing any pay­ment. “I am 80 years old now,” he said. Soon I will be gone, but will I get the com­pen­sa­tion (in time)?” —Reuters

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