DISPLACED white commercial farmers are contemplating arguably the biggest lawsuit in Zimbabwean history of $39 trillion — more than the national budget — against the state for lo
sses incurred during the chaotic land reform programme.
The lawsuit comes at a time when Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, in a bid to arrest the country’s crumbling economy, is reportedly luring back displaced commercial farmers.
Highly-placed sources in the central bank said Gono had constituted a National Land Board to draft an agricultural reconciliation plan that will form the basis for rebuilding the agricultural sector.
The land board is chaired by former Arda chief executive, Liberty Mhlanga. Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) president Doug Taylor-Freeme sits on the RBZ’s agricultural taskforce which had a major input in the agricultural reconciliation plan. CFU officials said the reconciliation plan would re-call some commercial farmers to jump-start agricultural revival.
“There are strong initiatives coming from the Reserve Bank in conjunction with the Agriculture ministry,” one official said.
“The dairy industry was the first to be approached by the ministry’s Department of Livestock and Development with evicted dairy farmers being requested to return to their properties.”
This could be a clear admission that government’s much-publicised land reform programme was a failure.
On the lawsuit, a draft document by lawyers indicates that so far more than 2 000 evicted farmers have completed the evaluation of their assets and the losses they suffered when they were forcibly evicted from their farms. The farmers say they suffered collective damages of $39 trillion.
But the figure could rise sharply because at least 4 000 farmers lost their properties in the controversial and often violent land seizures that began five years ago.
Some of the property was destroyed or looted by government-backed war veterans and other state security agents.
The farmers are planning to file their case with the local and international courts. Sources said farmers were frustrated with government’s failure to compensate them for improvements on the acquired farms and other losses.
Government promised to compensate farmers for developments only and not for the land. It shifted responsibility for land compensation to the former colonial power, Britain, which however rejected ultimate liability but agreed to mobilise resources and provide funds for a well-planned land redistribution exercise.
“Government is not showing the will to compensate farmers,” a displaced farmer spearheading the evaluation exercise said. “The partial compensation extended to about 200 farmers constituted between 5-10% of the value of the improvements.”
He said the 200 farmers only accepted the compensation because they had no alternative sources of income. Farmers said figures for compensation were calculated by evaluating improvements on the properties, lost income, damaged or vandalised equipment, relocation expenses and the trauma which the farmer and his workers went through when their farm was invaded.
At least 12 white commercial farmers lost their lives in the chaotic process, while thousands of black farm workers were displaced.
Critics of the land reforms blame Zimbabwe’s poor policies for the country’s current food insecurity, arguing that the majority of the “new farmers” lack experience and resources.
Of about 4 500 large-scale commercial white farmers operating in Zimbabwe five years ago, there are about 500 left. Hundreds have been accommodated in the Sadc region and in Nigeria where President Olusegun Obasanjo pledged that he would not let the skills developed by Zimbabwe’s white commercial farmers go to waste.
Justice for Agriculture chairman, John Worswick confirmed that there were initiatives taking place but could not give details.
“Taylor-Freeme is directly involved in the negotiations. He should be the right person to provide details,” Worswick said.
Taylor-Freeme confirmed his appointment to the RBZ’s agricultural taskforce.