Harare – Zimbabwe’s reformist Lands Minister Douglas Mombeshora says “new” farmers, the beneficiaries of confiscated white-owned farms, may now enter joint ventures or contracts with white people.
His statement comes just weeks after President Robert Mugabe told thousands of delegates at the Zanu-PF congress in Harare that white people must never return to the land. Mugabe has repeated this message many times since land invasions began in 2000 – invasions from which he and his family benefited.
This made them the largest “owners” of fertile land in Zimbabwe. “Joint ventures can be black to black, black to white, black to yellow or red… as long (as) people agree on terms of the contract,” Mombeshora was reported as saying in Monday’s Newsday newspaper.
“But we need to see the contract before it is signed because we want to protect both parties and we encourage fair play, not manipulation of one party by the other. It is not true to say that government ever disapproved contract-farming and joint ventures… what government didn’t approve of (and doesn’t allow) even now is sub-leasing of land.”
But last year Mugabe told rural people near his home village in central Zimbabwe: “Don’t enter contract-farming with whites; it’s a dangerous, dangerous arrangement that we don’t want.”
He also regularly accused some of his Zanu-PF colleagues of “supping with whites”.
Many Zanu-PF leaders have been involved in contract-farming for much of the last decade with foreign, UK, Chinese and US tobacco companies, which lent them money and taught them to grow tobacco.
Some Zanu-PF leaders, usually in tobacco-producing areas, survive financially through payments, or bribes, from white farmers, who have managed to keep a small part of their original land holdings.
Some of these surviving white farmers have told Independent Newspapers over several years that they struggle to cover the high costs of farming because of “incessant” demands from Zanu-PF seniors.
“I can’t move without paying them. So it is getting quite close to the point when I will just move off because I can’t make a profit,” said a tobacco-seed producer. Many Zanu-PF beneficiaries of the land grab are unable to raise money from banks to grow annual crops because they do not have title deeds to use as security for overdrafts.
With a surge in international tobacco prices in recent years, tobacco is once again Zimbabwe’s most valuable export.
There are now about 70 000 tobacco farmers, many of them small-scale beneficiaries of white-owned land since 2000.