By Nobleman Runyanga
Last week Government announced the commencement of the process of identifying and registering the former white farmers, who lost land during the land reform programme, in an exercise which is being co-ordinated by the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) and the Compensation Steering Committee (CSC).
This is part of the activities which Government has set in motion to compensate the former white commercial farmers in line with the Constitution as it moves to bring closure to emotive legacy issues which continue to divide the nation.
Process has, however not been without animated discourse around it as various stakeholders seek to contribute or influence the matter in the direction of their own interests. Four groups of interested people have emerged so far. The first is that of local people who believe that colonialists, from whom the majority of former white farmers descend, did not bring any land from Europe and, therefore, do not deserve any compensation.
Latched onto this group as a sub-group is that of foreign people who have been watching how Zimbabwe has been handling her land reform programme with the view to learn from her mistakes. This sub-group includes people such as the South African opposition leader, Julius Malema who galvanised black South Africans to support land expropriation without compensation in that country. Malema obviously feels that Zimbabwe’s planned compensation will make it difficult for South Africa to carry out its land reform without its own white farmers referring to Zimbabwe’s compensation project.
The second group is that of people who have been so dizzied by the economic challenges that they now only think in terms of the here and now. Their contention is that paying compensation will not improve Zimbabwe’s economic lot overnight. They are arguing that the RTGS$53 million set aside for the interim advance payments in compensation to the former white farmers is better off being used in other needy areas such as hospital drugs and consumables.
The third group is that of the former white farmers who have embraced Government’s gesture and stand ready to work with it. The fourth group comprises former white farmers who are contending that compensation should go beyond improvements on farms and include the land.
Before one attempts to respond or engage these various stakeholders to the land issue it is very important to spell out from the very outset the central role of the land to Zimbabweans’ quest for their independence during the liberation struggle. It was not just for the removal of the Union Jack and handing it to Prince Charles and replacing it with the Zimbabwean flag that Zimbabweans died during the liberation struggle. The late United African National Council (UANC) leader, Bishop Abel Muzorewa had a Zimbabwe-Rhodesian flag made out for him, had a rag tag army put in place for him by the Rhodesian government and made a Mickey mouse prime minister in 1979 by the Smith regime as a compromise settlement but this did not translate into total independence for Zimbabweans.
The rationale of Zimbabwe’s war liberation was not for the cosmetic motions of changing flags. It was for the purpose of ensuring total sovereignty over the country’s land and other natural resources. What would independence mean if the West maintained suzerainty over Zimbabwe through a stranglehold of the very definition of Zimbabwe – its land? This explains why the Lancaster House Agreement took three months to negotiate because no real nationalist representing his people would agree to sign an agreement under which his people would have no control and ownership of their land.
Given this background Zimbabwe cannot be seen reneging on the undertaking to compensate the former white land holders. Under the Lancaster House Agreement Britain agreed to provide the funding for compensation but not without initially refusing to do so until America offered to play guarantor to the deal. The two countries, however, refused to honour their part of the agreement during the September 1998 Donors Conference to assist the Zimbabwe land reform programme when the British Government under Tony Blair insisted on the willing buyer and willing seller arrangement.
The new administration cannot behave like Blair who took advantage of the change in guard at 10 Downing Street from John Major to dishonour an agreement entered into by his country by reducing it to a matter between the two British political parties. The new dispensation chose to be better than both Blair and former President Robert Mugabe’s go-to-hell diplomacy by bringing closure to the land issue despite battling economic challenges.
Under the final 20 years of Mugabe’s rule Zimbabwe has been isolated and resultantly its people have endured untold economic hardships. No Government worth its salt would allow this to continue. This is the reason why the new administration is working flat out to re-engage and re-connect with international community in order to be part of the global family again and to attract investors. No investor would invest in a country where property rights and security of tenure are not guaranteed.
The land reform programme negatively affected land protected under Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPAs) signed with various countries. Zimbabwe cannot normalise its relations with the world without addressing issues such as the property rights of foreigners protected under BIPPAs as spelt out under item 3 of the Constitution’s Section 95.
Since 2000 some sections of the Zimbabwean society have been characterised by social disharmony emanating from the way the land reform was carried out. This includes land ownership, boundary and compensation disputes among new black land owners on one side and Government and the former white commercial farmers on the other. This has affected national unity and taking measures to compensate the former white farmers and attending to disputes among new land owners through the Land Commission are giant steps in bringing in national unity which is necessary for national development and for the country to move forward as one nation.
Given the foregoing background, people such as Malema should know that Zimbabwe cannot stop charting its own course because compensation will upset South Africa’s planned land reform. When Zimbabwe carried out its land reform it did not benchmark the exercise against any country. He would be a good neighbour to Zimbabwe and a good opposition leader if he stops insulting President Emmerson Mnangagwa, observe Zimbabwe complete its land reform and adjust his supporters’ expectations in line with the effect that the compensation exercise will have on the South African white farmers.
He has to admit that the Zimbabwean Government pioneered the land reform programme in the region and cannot be told to change course by a neighbouring opposition party. Malema should know that Zimbabwe is not South Africa and South Africa is not Zimbabwe. Our histories are totally different. Yes, liberation struggle were fought for the independence of both countries but even the struggles were different.
Zimbabweans who feel that compensating the former farmers will not improve our lot are being short sighted and are arguing more from the stomach than from reason. It is a painful decision that has to be taken for the long term good of all Zimbabweans. Most people wish for a sound economy tomorrow and compensation is one of the sacrifices to be made to achieve it.
Those who feel that the former farmers should be compensated for the land and developments thereon should know that the Constitution which Zimbabwe adopted in May 2013 enjoins Government to compensate only for the improvements made on farms. This is for the obvious reason that Zimbabwean people cannot pay for their own land.
The earlier Zimbabweans realise the importance of compensating the former white farmers the better. Zimbabwe can only move forward if its citizens come to terms with some of the sacrifice which have to be made in order to achieve the sound economy and good life that everyone desires.