Cape Town – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government has reportedly indicated, for the first time, that it may hand back land to some white farmers whose farms were forcibly taken away from them during the height of the country’s controversial land reform programme.
This comes a decade and a half after the Zimbabwean government seized large swaths of land from white farmers in the country - a move that saw a drastic deterioration in the country's economy.
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According to The Telegraph, Minister of Lands Douglas Mombeshora said provincial leaders had been tasked to come up with names of white farmers they wanted to remain on their farms. The farms should be "of strategic economic importance".
"We have asked provinces to give us the names of white farmers they want to remain on farms so that we can give them security of tenure documents to enable them to plan their operations properly," Mombeshora was quoted as saying.
The report said those who benefitted from the land grabs will in future be expected to pay a small rental per acre, which will be used to pay compensation to evicted white farmers.
Fin24 reported late last year that Mugabe’s administration was willing to compensate white farmers and to clarify its indigenisation laws.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa was quoted at the time as saying that government was seeking resources to implement the compensation of white commercial farmers.
"...we have an obligation under the constitution of Zimbabwe to compensate white farmers who lost their land during the land reform programme. It is not out of intention that we are delaying to implement the compensation process, but rather an issue of scarce resources which are needed to fully carry out the programme," Chinamasa was quoted as saying.
The latest developments are seen as a U-turn in the southern African country’s land policy after Mugabe vowed last year that whites will never be allowed to own land in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party launched the land reforms in 2000, taking over white-owned farms to resettle landless blacks.
Mugabe said the reforms were meant to correct colonial land ownership imbalances.
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At least 4 000 white commercial farmers were evicted from their farms.
The land seizures were often violent, claiming the lives of several white farmers during clashes with veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation struggle.
Critics of the reforms have blamed the programme for low production on the farms as the majority of the beneficiaries lacked the means and skills to work the land.