Zanu-PF between rock and hard place on farm grabs

Zimbabwe's land minister has halted the takeover of farms protected by bilateral agreements. (AFP)

Zimbabwe's land minister has halted the takeover of farms protected by bilateral agreements. (AFP)

Lands Minister Herbert Murerwa is facing criticism from his own party after he announced that the government will no longer take over farms that are protected by bilateral investment promotion and protection agreements (Bippas) with foreign governments.

Murerwa said the decision is meant to respect the pacts and lessen the burden of lawsuits against the government.

Under the Bippa terms, if the government takes over a farm, it must pay for both the land and the infrastructure. For other farms not protected by such agreements, the government is only obliged to pay for equipment and not the land itself.

Zanu-PF has previously ignored Bippas. This is displayed in its central committee report, presented to the party’s national conference in December. The report said that, of the 153 farms protected by investment agreements across the country, 116 had been settled by 4179 families.

The party’s previous disregard for Bippas made its recent about-turn a surprise, even to its supporters.

Tempers have now flared after farmer Peep Mattison, of the Bippa-protected Tavydale farm near Mazowe, reportedly slashed 70 hectares of resettled farmers’ maize crops and drove them off the farm following Murerwa’s announcement.

Mobilising supporters
The Sunday Mail quoted war veteran Edmore Matanhike as warning: “As freedom fighters we cannot stand by and watch what we fought for being enjoyed by the same people we fought against, at the expense of our own brothers and sisters.”

Such sentiment will worry Zanu-PF, which is trying to mobilise supporters for the forthcoming elections. Resettled farmers form a key support base for Zanu-PF, out of both fear of being driven off the land and gratitude.

But the government wants to appear to be protecting foreign investment. Germany’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Hans-Günter Gnodtke, has threatened to boycott the United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference in Victoria Falls in August to protest the seizure of land held by German citizens. German nationals are among the safari operators being driven off the Save Valley Conservancy, which is covered by a Bippa between Zimbabwe and Germany.

The government sees the conference as a major opportunity to mend its image and is desperate for it to succeed.

However, this dilemma has split the government. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has publicly opposed Murerwa’s directive, saying Bippa farms can still be acquired.

Suing the Zimbabwe government
Zimbabwe owes $25-million to 40 Dutch farmers, who sued the government at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (Iscid). German farmer Heinrich von Pezold is also suing the Zimbabwe government at the Iscid for $600million after his timber estate was seized.

“Although under Zimbabwean law government can legally acquire such farms, in view of the ongoing litigation in the Iscid, government has taken the decision not to settle persons on farms covered by Bippa for now,” said Murerwa.

Murerwa admitted that the government had made an “error” when it allowed resettlement at Tavydale farm, but said it will abide by the provisions of the agreement.

Zimbabwe has investment agreements with several European countries, as well as with South Africa. 

“When we talk of German investors in Zimbabwe, we are talking of those investors who came here at the invitation of the Zanu-PF government,” Gnodtke said.

Germany froze aid to Zimbabwe after the 2002 election and Gnodtke said co-operation will only be restored “once the rule of law and democracy have been re-established”.

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