BY BRIDGET MANANAVIRE
A WAVE of anarchy has gripped commercial farmers at a time a lands commission is undertaking a nationwide land audit, amid reports of fresh disruptions at productive farms reminiscent of the chaotic 2000 farm invasions, in which brutal tactics were used to violently displace commercial white farmers.
This comes as the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) reported that some of its members’ operations have been disrupted by suspected farm invaders in recent weeks.
CFU chief executive officer Ben Purcell-Gilpin told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the organisation is closely monitoring farm disruptions, which have resulted in Zimbabwe being isolated from the international community.
Most invasions are occurring on farms where there are opportunities to make quick gains while depriving the farmer.
“Sadly, where crops and assets offer the prospect of quick gains, for instance, such as citrus, avocados, macadamias or sugar cane that are close to harvest, there has often been incentive to gain access for a quick return by opportunists. Such activity or attempted behaviour causes considerable disruption to production, as well as creating a very negative impression for other investors who may be considering investing in Zimbabwe,” he said.
“. . . Most incidents currently affect properties which were acquired by the state, but where there are disputes over access to farms which may be new or already the subject of long legal process that is yet to conclude. We believe the establishment of the land commission is a positive step in regard to resolving many such cases.
“Over the years, some commercial farmers have been encouraged to continue farming and they have invested heavily and although they have been promised offer letters or, more recently, 99-year-leases, the process has been slow and often complicated by conflicting claims of allocation. This also includes properties which may be subject to bilateral investment agreements.”
Purcell-Gilpin said there was need for government to bring closure to the land reform programme so as to restore confidence in the farming sector.
He also said that the right of the state to acquire land has not been balanced by the need to pay fair and timeous compensation.
He added lack of a land market in Zimbabwe had stripped one of the country’s valuable assets of their real value.
“There is no land market and the value of Zimbabwe’s land has to a large extent become a dead asset under the control of the state with limited accountability for its use. The value of this asset needs to be restored and accounted for in the public domain through property rights that are respected and enforced at law,” Purcell-Gilpin said.
The Zimbabwe land question also remains a point of reference for frosty relations between the southern Africa country and the United States of America, which last year amended the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) to push Zimbabwe to enforce a ruling by the now defunct Sadc Tribunal ruling on the land reform.
The tribunal ruling, handed down in 2008, pertained to 18 disputes involving employment, commercial and human rights cases of disposed Zimbabwean commercial farmers and agricultural companies.
The tribunal ruled that former commercial white farmers should be compensated for the land lost and the compensation bill, according to estimates by farmers’ unions, was as high as US$30 billion. However, government only committed to compensating for farm improvements, which would put the bill at US$9 billion.
The European Union ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, told the Independent last week that the bloc was in support of attempts to find a resolution to the land issue.
“We have been supporting efforts of all these issues through supporting a project that has been measuring the value of the lands and their improvements,” he said.
“There are number of companies that are there who are concerned about many issues in Zimbabwe, the operating environment, the expatriation of profits and so forth. These kinds of events about farm invasions and all these are a deteriorating factor to people who are looking at Zimbabwe as an opportunity for investment. Those who are already here are different because many of them are quite resilient.”