Zimbabwe aims to undo some land grab mistakes, says minister

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Zimbabwe’s government has started a land audit to cut farm sizes, flush out multiple farm owners and correct some of the mistakes from its chaotic land reform programme.

The effort is an attempt by the government to redress the damage caused by its land seizures that started in 2000.

Recently lands, agriculture, rural resettlement, water and climate minister Perrance Shiri said his country regrets some of the injustices of its land reform programme and is taking corrective measures, including compensating white farmers and working with them.

Analysts on Wednesday confirmed the move is a realisation by Zimbabwe’s government of the folly of forced land grabs.

An informal audit by authorities exposed irregularities in the allocation of farms, with children as young as 10 years old reportedly getting land.

Once seen as the bread basket of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe’s food production has plummeted, forcing it to import basic foodstuffs because of dire shortages of wheat, soya beans and other crops. The already desperate situation has been worsened by a huge budget deficit of $3bn (R41.94bn) and crippling shortages of foreign currency.

Agriculture accounts for 15% of Zimbabwe’s GDP and provides about 70% of its formal employment. Zimbabwe’s land reform resulted in a huge displacement of 6,000 white farmers, with about 300,000 black families benefiting.

But the programme has been abused by top Zanu-PF officials.

Former president Robert Mugabe reportedly owns at least 21 farms, which is against the government’s one-person-one-farm policy. His wife and children are also said to have benefited from the programme.

Addressing the senate in Harare, Shiri said the land audit will help flush out multiple farm owners. “The land commission is currently on the ground carrying out land audits where they want to establish the occupants, production levels as well as eliminate multiple farm ownership,” he said.

“The issue of the resizing of the farms to the recommended standards will be pursued in earnest. In a bid not to step on each other’s toes, our ministry officials are not currently pursuing the resizing of the farms up and until the completion of the land audit.”

Shiri said the land audit will also deal with ownership and boundary disputes.

Zimbabwe’ unidentified farmers who were facing eviction from their farms which were targetted for seizure under controversial government land reforms walk into Harare’s magistrate’s court in 2008.
Image: DESMOND KWANDE / AFP

Hendrik Olivier, former CEO of the Commercial Farmers Union, a grouping of mostly white farmers, said resizing of the land will be “a big test” for the Zimbabwean government to rope in white farmers.

“It is not an easy task. Some of the multiple farm owners are top officials. We wait to see if they will be named.

“Another test is to see if, once the resizing is done, they will be able to work with the white farmers. I think this is what they need to do and it’s quite gratifying that the president has said that he is willing to work with white farmers,” Olivier said, referring to President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Agriculture economist Midway Bhunu said the land audit is long overdue.

“The root cause of our current economic crisis is lack of production, because we are not making full use of the farms.

“Zimbabwe’s economy is agro-based and we need a new strategy to get the most out of the farms.

“Most of the underutilised land lies in the highly productive areas of region 1 and region 2. These are prime areas, which have best conditions for production, but there are many people who are failing to use such land,” Bhunu said.

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