Hard Times: Mugabe Plans to Push Farmers to pay Rent for Land Confiscated from White Settlers

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Zimbabwe is considering charging rent to black subsistence farmers who settled on large-scale commercial farms confiscated mainly from white owners during state-backed invasions and may repossess land from those who don’t comply.

The southern African nation’s government is considering 99-year leases that will see rentals charged annually, it said in a document obtained by Bloomberg News and confirmed by Lands and Rural Settlements Minister Douglas Mombeshora.

It also wants the new farmers to make one-time payments for capital improvements such as dams, barns, roads and buildings, it said. White growers held the best land in the country, a legacy of 90 years of colonial and white-only rule during which black producers were pushed into crowded and unfertile areas.

Between 3,000 and 3,500 farmers had their land taken from 2000 to 2010, while about 300,000 laborers lost their jobs, slashing exports of crops ranging from tobacco to roses and sending the country into a political and economic crisis that has yet to end.

Poor grain harvests following the worst regional drought in three decades mean about 4.1 million Zimbabweans will rely on emergency food aid this year, or a third of the population, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

“The value of the improvements of the leasehold will be purchased by the lessee, who may raise a mortgage to make the payment to government,” the document showed. The government could reclaim ownership of the farm if producers failure to pay rentals or for improvements, it said.

Repay Owners

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said in April that black producers who have settled on the land may be asked to repay the former owners for their losses. The compensation plan is part of an effort by President Robert Mugabe’s government to restore relations with the International Monetary Fund. Since the nation fell into default to the Washington-based fund in 1999, it’s struggled to obtain finance to support an economy that is half the size it was 16 years ago.

“We are now waiting to submit it to the Cabinet Committee on legislation; we’ve finished our part,” Mombeshora said by phone about the proposal. “We are waiting for our slot.” The government has made payments to 240 white commercial farmers, he said in April.

Producers will have to submit government-approved, five-year business plans to be granted leases, the agreement said. Producers will be barred from forming partnerships or sub-letting land without government consent, which “shall not be reasonably withheld.”

Mugabe has repeatedly criticized black farmers for partnering with white farmers, mainly to farm tobacco.

Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmers’ Union, which represents remaining white producers and the interests of those evicted from their farms and homes, didn’t answer calls.

Source: Bloomberg