A rush of new farm seizures has emerged as the biggest hurdle to Zimbabwe receiving foreign aid to support its ambitious economic recovery plan.
European governments, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank met Zimbabwean government officials throughout recently, trying to assess the commitment of the new government to economic and political reforms.
The deteriorating security on the farms has emerged as the key point of concern during the talks.
Danish and Norwegian ministers held talks in Zimbabwe, while Sweden pledged to increase humanitarian assistance to the country. However none made concrete promises to provide budgetary support.
Last week the IMF demanded ‘protection of property rightsâ€ and further economic reforms before any new aid will be given and Finance Minister Tendai Biti conceded that farm seizures have been one of the major issues raised by the donors.
An emergency economic recovery programme launched two weeks ago, which sought to win over sceptical donors, pledged to protect farmers and halt new seizures. The government would ‘uphold the rule of law as well as enforce law and order on farms, including arresting any further farm invasions which disrupt farming activitiesâ€.
But across the country invasions are increasing. Ben Freeth of the farmers’ union, Justice for Agriculture, said many farmers are being hauled into court for failing to leave farms that have been marked for takeover.
The Commercial Farmers’ Union, the members of which are mostly white farmers, is said to have sought a meeting with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai about the issue. In response Tsvangirai was due to meet the ministers of agriculture and home affairs as well as the heads of other security ministries.
Economist Tony Hawkins, who met the IMF team, said the delegation wanted to know ‘who is really in control; and an issue that comes to mind is that the government says it will not tolerate land invasions and yet they are still continuingâ€.
Unions claim there was massive fraud in the issuing of ‘offer lettersâ€, authorisations given to beneficiaries by the previous minister of land resettlement allowing them to occupy land.
Officials in the new government were unable to say this week if new offer letters were still being issued. Many such letters have been deemed illegal by the courts, but in the rush for prime farmland court orders count for little.
The IMF said in a report last Wednesday: ‘Technical and financial assistance from the IMF will depend on establishing a track record of sound policy implementation, donor support and a resolution of overdue financial obligations to official creditors.â€
Vice-President Joice Mujuru told a tourism conference that travel warnings, which have damaged Zimbabwe’s once robust tourism industry, would be lifted only if ‘we all publicly and emphatically condemn violence of whatever form. We need to take serious introspection to see to it that whatever we say and do does not contribute to the negative perceptions the country suffered abroad.â€
Arthur Mutambara, the deputy prime minister, said the farm invasions were a major factor in the West’s refusal to offer aid to or remove financial restrictions on Zimbabwe.
‘Those sanctions were imposed on us by things that we do — like farm invasions, abductions and the breakdown of the rule of law. People have perceptions about governance in Zimbabwe, so we should do something to correct these perceptions,â€ Mutambara said.