Zimbabwe: Farm Grabs Treacherous

This week, our lead story is on a new wave of land grabs targeting white-owned farms. It is a heart-rending story about how white farmers with 99-year leases are being given 48 hours to vacate their homes and 90 days to wind up their multi-million-dollar operations.

Government has said it is streamlining the sizes of all individual farms in the country’s five ecological regions.It argues that the reduction in farm sizes would boost capacity utilisation of land following concerns that some farms were unnecessarily big and underutilised. However, this argument does not hold in this case.

It is utterly nonsensical because some of the white-owned farms being targeted are within the maximum farm sizes in their regions.In addition, these farms are highly productive and are among the country’s biggest exporters of agricultural produce.

David Alexander Tippett, who has been given a 90-day notice to wind-up operations at the Remaining Extent of Magar Farm in Marondera, measuring 337 hectares, first lost the farmhouse two years ago when he was ordered to vacate his family home, where he grew up. The new beneficiaries are the two young sons of the late war veterans’ leader Chenjerai Hunzvi.

“The day I had to vacate my house, I was devastated. It is one of those days when you think you are going to lose everything because your whole life is your family, your belongings and your home,” Tippett said.

“It’s a heart-wrenching feeling. We were given 48 hours. They have been doing that to a lot of farmers here. They give you very little time to pack your bags.

“The house had just been repainted, new veranda, new ceilings, and new lights. I had spent around US$80 000 renovating. My wife was in tears and my kids also. You just cannot describe the feeling of losing something that you have worked so hard for, especially when you have been given the surety that it is not going to be taken away from you with an offer letter. Offer letters, like a 99-year lease, are supposed to give you security of tenure and it doesn’t. It’s heart wrenching,” he added.

Tippett is just one of many white farmers who have invested huge sums of money on their piece of land after being given 99-year leases, but are now being ordered to wind up operations.

This puts paid to claims by the government that property rights have been restored. It is a clear demonstration that the promises to respect and restore property rights in the Transitional Stabilisation Programme are empty rhetoric. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Paris Club have seen enough proof that Zimbabwe is not interested in reform.

The government’s new deal for the compensation of dispossessed farmers will be viewed with scepticism by Zimbabweans and the international community.The proposed land bank, the central piece of the US$3,75 billion farm compensation, will fail to attract international financiers.

This fresh assault on white farmers will give Washington the perfect vindication for upholding the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act.

Those who are taking over the farms will find no export markets for the produce they want to expropriate. Such a business, like the Tippett family’s Essen Oils Company, thrives not on bookish knowledge but on what is called tacit knowledge. The Tippett brothers run a specialised enterprise, being the extraction of essential oils for the medicinal industry in Zimbabwe and abroad. They are one of the largest producers of organic tea tree oil in the world.

The farm is likely to collapse in the first year, unless they are substituting the high-value production for low-value production. It is policy helter-skelter at play. This is just another story of greed and plunder as we saw with the multi-million-dollar enterprise at Kondozi Farm in Odzi in Manicaland province in 2004.

No serious investor will bring their money to Zimbabwe where property rights are not honoured. This is a continuation of the systematic assault on property rights: the closure of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, compulsory liquidation of export earnings, unilateral conversion of US dollar assets at 1:1, for example.

If Zimbabwe is to be serious about attracting foreign direct investment, the country has to respect property rights without fail. This assault on hard-working farmers is retrogressive and should stop forthwith.

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