President Robert Mugabe’s notorious land reforms in the early 2000s robbed thousands of
Zimbabwean farmers of their land, and of their livelihoods. What was presented as an
attempt to right the wrongs of colonisation, turned into a politicised, corrupt land grab. It
has taken twenty years for the injustices and illegalities to have been recognised.
On the 29th July 2020, Zimbabwe finally made the headlines for the right reasons. The
government, led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the white farmers, represented
by the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), signed a compensation deal worth $3.5 Billion,
described by President Mnangagwa as a “new beginning of the land discourse in Zimbabwe”.
The deal has set many a tongue wagging. It is thus crucial to lay out all the facts on the table.
Most importantly perhaps is the democratic nature of this agreement. The CFU conducted a
referendum of its members, 60% of whom today live outside Zimbabwe. Commercial Farmers Union President, Mr Andrew Pascoe, out of 2896 votes
on the day, there were 2759 ‘Yes’ votes, and only 137 ‘No’ votes. Votes have continued to
trickle in since the cut off, and as of the 13th of August, 95% of the 3,191 votes were cast in favour.
The agreement itself is a result of long and tough negotiations, based on the Zimbabwean
constitution which provides for the payment of compensation for improvements on
“compulsorily acquired agricultural lands”.
A database was thus created, known as the ‘Valcon Database’ which has 4,730 farms
registered, representing almost 90% of all farms affected by Mugabe’s Fast Track Land Reform Program. The database calculated the value of all registered farms in order to arrive at a fair figure of compensation.
In this case, the valuation of permanent improvements was carried out in accordance with
the requirements of the Zimbabwe Land Acquisition Act. As per the constitution, the land
value was to be excluded, and in accordance with International Valuation Standards, the
Depreciated Replacement Cost (DRC) method was used to establish the value of
improvements was used.
None of this was done alone. The replacement costs per unit were agreed with Government
after consultations with reputable contractors, which took over a year to obtain and agree in full.
The figure of $5.2 Billion was established as being the collective valuation of improvements
to the farms as a whole. Considering Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties, this figure was
considered to be unaffordable, and after lengthy negotiation the government offered a figure of $3.5 Billion, which was put to farmers for their acceptance or rejection.
In light of the economic climate, it was clear that the payment would not be in one lump sum.
The key was to find a payment schedule that provided swift relief to farmers, many of whom have waited two decades for compensation, while not further increasing the country’s debt burden. The terms of the deal, a 50% down-payment within one year of signing, with the balance to be paid over the next four years, represent a fair compromise. In addition, the government has committed to paying the full sum within 12 months should the funds successfully be mobilised within that time.
There are inevitably those that criticise the agreement. For some, the compensation figure
and the payment schedule are not what they hoped for. For others, the very concept of an
agreement based on improvements to the land, and not its value, is a non-starter.
Those around the world should listen to the voice of those directly affected by the
issue, who almost unanimously voted in favour. It is obvious that such a move has its own limitations, but it must be remembered that
for the first time in two decades, there is a Zimbabwean government prepared to recognise the plight of commercial farmers. To quote the CFU Mr President Mr Pascoe, “We appreciate the government’s refreshing stance to treat us with respect and dignity and to compensate us for our suffering. We have put this matter behind us, and call on others to do the same.
We hope that the dialogue and willingness to compromise reflected in this agreement
represents the beginning of a new era in relations between Zimbabweans of different races
and backgrounds, and between Zimbabwe and the nations of the world.”