Zimbabwe says it has started giving some white farmers leases for land for agriculture, 15 years after it embarked on a violent land reform programme targeting the more than 4 000 commercial farmers.
The farmers would be given 99 year leases after the government converted all farm into State land during the reforms that precipitated the country’s economic collapse.
We have, in fact, already started issuing leases to white commercial farmers
President Robert Mugabe justified the seizure of farms without compensation saying he was correcting colonial imbalances.
The soon to be 92 year-old leader has often chastised beneficiaries of the land reform programme for allowing some of the white farmers back into the land by leasing out farms, but the issuing of the leases could signal that his government is softening its tough stance against white Zimbabweans.
Lands and Rural Resettlements Minister Douglas Mombeshora said the issuing of the leases was meant to help rebuild the agriculture industry.
“We have, in fact, already started issuing leases to white commercial farmers after receiving recommendations that they must remain in their respective properties,” Mombeshora said.
“We are giving the white farmers leases right away because we already know their production history on the properties for which they were recommended to stay.”
Indigenous black farmers will be considered in three years’ time, he said. “During this time, we will be monitoring things such as production levels and also whether they would have taken up their properties because most of them are still fairly new in farming,” said Mombeshora.
Last week Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa raised eyebrows when he publicly declared that he had protected white dairy figures from his Midlands Province from forced eviction.
Mnangagwa is widely believed to be one of the favourites to take over from Mugabe when he finally exits the scene.
During a visit to China last year he said Zimbabwe was now lagging other countries in terms of development because of wrong policies, and some speculated he was attacking the land reform programme.
The exercise saw Zimbabwe’s food production dropping significantly and this year the government says at least 1.5 million people would need food aid because of poor harvests.