Zimbabwe’s government has agreed to pay $3.5 billion to white farmers displaced during a violent “land redistribution” program started two decades ago, Voice of America (VOA) reported on Wednesday.
The announcement serves as a largely symbolic gesture, as the southern African nation does not currently have the money promised. The compensation agreement stipulates that the government “issue long term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding,” Reuters reported.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa “ruled out compensating for the actual land taken from the whites and given to [black] peasant farmers,” VOA noted.
“With regards to the land compensation agreement signed today, my administration reaffirms that the government of Zimbabwe does not have any obligation for compensation for acquired land,” Mnangagwa said on Wednesday. “The constitution bids us to compensate [for] all the improvements on land,” he added.
By “improvements” the president referred to “structures such as dams and buildings that the white commercial farmers made on the land,” VOA noted.
Prior to the rule of leftist dictator Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of Southern Africa, producing more food than it needed and exporting the surplus.
“Starting in 2000, thousands of white Zimbabwean farmers were forced off their land by violent state-backed mobs or evicted in dubious legal judgments, supposedly to help black people marginalized under British colonial rule,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) recalled in 2018. “The farms, however, were often allocated to [then] President Robert Mugabe’s allies [with no knowledge of farming] and fell into ruin, leaving tens of thousands of rural laborers out of work and sending the economy into a tailspin as food production crashed.”
The West condemned Mugabe’s so-called reforms and punished his government’s support of violent land seizures with sanctions against Zimbabwe. Mnangagwa has vowed to compensate white farmers for the land grabs since he became president in 2017 following Mugabe’s ousting in a coup. Observers view his promises as attempts to court favor from the West so that Zimbabwe may again borrow money from international lenders.
“Zimbabwe is no longer able to borrow money from the World Bank until some of Zimbabwe’s previous debts have been resolved. In particular, the United States is demanding that Zimbabwe provide at least partial restitution for land seized from white farmers before it will approve of any further World Bank loan to Zimbabwe,” Breitbart News reported in late 2018.
In announcing the compensation on Wednesday, Mnangagwa confirmed this motive saying, “the paying of compensation was key to mending ties with the West,” according to Reuters. Zimbabwe’s government reportedly hopes the pledging of land compensation for white farmers “will attract foreign investment to improve the battered economy,” VOA noted.