Zimbabwe: The land issue revisited

Forced removal: Farmer Keith Kirkman (right) talks to war veteran Islam Burira after Kirkman's farm 60km from Harare was invaded in 2000. (Reuters)

Forced removal: Farmer Keith Kirkman (right) talks to war veteran Islam Burira after Kirkman's farm 60km from Harare was invaded in 2000. (Reuters)

The issue of the over 4 500 farms seized without compensation is turning out to be a pertinent matter in Zimbabwe's re-engagement efforts with Western countries after a 12-year political standoff.

Diplomatic sources with knowledge of two meetings held in Harare between Mugabe and two senior United States officials in recent week's stated that Mugabe had said Zimbabwe was willing to reopen talks about compensation but money promised by the British and Americans in 1979 was critical to any settlement.

In recent weeks, Harare has hosted two prominent American black civil-rights leaders, Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson. The sources said the men, who both held closed-door meetings with Mugabe, discussed land and other issues.

Young, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, was in the country two weeks ago as a special envoy of the US state department. During a discussion hosted by a local political and economic institute, the Sapes Trust, Young spoke of the need to "find ways of re-engaging with Zimbabwe".

Ibbo Mandaza, an academic and director of the Sapes Trust, hinted that there were ongoing negotiations about compensation for white farmers.
Mandaza said the issue of compensation was "very much alive" and that they "are engaged in these efforts to see to it some of these issues are addressed and resolved".

Mandaza, who was one of the negotiators during the 1979 Lancaster House negotiations that helped to broker a land-reform compensation deal, said the US had pledged $750-million at the time and the British government $1-billion, to be paid in tranches over 10 years.

"The commitment was never put on paper but it's contained in the minutes of the negotiations. It was taken for granted that they will pay but this was never followed up after independence. Takavarairwa [we relaxed]," he said.

Young said his greatest concern was why Britain and the US government "reneged on funding the land issue. When nothing was done, Zimbabwe did what it could under the circumstances", but there was still an opportunity to "forgive each other".

The president of the Commercial Farmers' Union, Charles Taffs, also confirmed that negotiations were under way about compensation. He said his organisation was currently engaged in talks with the government and Western capitals over compensation issues for former farmers.

"We have been in touch with every­one and we want to see all the disputes resolved because [they] keep this conflict going on forever," Taffs said.

"If the British government and the American government pledged to pay compensations for land reforms, surely they should honour their obligations," he said.

"The country needs to move forward, we can't keep wasting time. The country has been held back for too long."

Taffs estimated that the compensation figure would now be about $6-billion, up from $1.75-billion taking into consideration interest accrued over the years.

Jesse Jackson meets Mugabe
This week Jackson held a two-hour meeting with Mugabe. After the meeting, Jackson spoke of the need to remove sanctions and emphasised that the land issue was a source of tension. "Some focus on land was not honoured and [this has] been a source of struggle," he said.

The American embassy in Harare did not respond to questions from the M&G and the Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo could not be reached by the time of going to press.

Jameson Timba, the secretary for international relations of the Movement for Democratic Change, said, although Young's visit was "critical in Zimbabwe's re-engagement efforts" and compensation was a necessity, there was also a need to "address the current challenges that the country is facing.

"We need to deal with the issue of security of tenure, productivity and multiple farm ownership," Timba said.

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