VENTURES AFRICA – No more foreign-owned farms will be repossessed in Zimbabwe, according to the country’s government, in response to a number of successful international court cases against the government.
The Zimbabwean government today revealed a shift in policy, whereby foreign-owned farms will no longer be repossessed and redistributed to black individuals, as has been the government practice for more than a decade.
The announcement comes in response to a string of expensive court case losses for the government, which has been successfully challenged by ex-farm owners in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.
“We have acquired many BIPPA [Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements] farms, but we are not going to be taking any future farms,” Lands Minister Herbert Murerwa told Reuters, citing the successful legal claims against the government as the reason for the change in policy.
Among the high-profile legal battles, a group of 40 Dutch farmers dispossessed of their Zimbabwe-based land brought a group claim against the country’s government in 2009 at the International Centre, which saw a successful result for the farmers who were awarded 25 million euros ($32.7 million) in compensation
The BIPPA had been intended to protect the owners of land covered by the agreement, with the government having promised BIPPA farm owners would not see their land seized.
This has not proven to be the case, with 116 of a total of 153 BIPPA covered farms already having been repossessed by the government.
To date, approximately 4,000 farms have been dispossessed of their land, and granted no compensation under Zimbabwe’s government policy which allows land suitable for farming to be taken from its owner.
Foreign-owned dispossessed farmers’ group Justice for Agriculture feels that even today’s announcement is more a publicity stunt than a reliable attempt to discontinue the controversial repossession policies.
“They [the government] previously committed to stop disruptions on the farms but haven’t done so. They have already taken more than two-thirds of BIPPA farms,” Justice for Agriculture chief executive John Worsley-Worswick told Reuters.
Despite the empowerment intentions behind the government policy, the redistribution of land across Zimbabwe has had the impact of causing the country’s food production industry to crash, with Zimbabwe now relying on food exports from neighbouring countries – including South Africa- to meet the food demands of the population.