Zimbabwe to Issue 99-Year Leases to Remaining White Farmers

Farai Nutsaka, Associated Press, February 1, 2018

Zimbabwe’s remaining white farmers will now get 99-year land leases according to a new government policy that marks a dramatic change from widespread evictions of whites from farms.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is breaking away from the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms carried out by his predecessor and mentor Robert Mugabe, who resigned in November under military pressure. The new policy will give remaining white farmers new security from expropriations.

The lands ministry has instructed its provincial officers that the policy should be implemented “with immediate effect,” according to a copy of the directive seen by The Associated Press.

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Since 2000, Mugabe’s often violent land redistribution program saw the ruling ZANU-PF party, led by veterans of the 1970s war against white minority rule, evict most of Zimbabwe’s white farmers. The seizures were meant to redress colonial land ownership imbalances that were skewed against blacks, Mugabe said. Some in the international community responded with outrage and sanctions.

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Whites make up less than 1 percent of Zimbabwe’s population of 14 million, but until Mugabe’s seizures they owned huge tracts of the best farmland while blacks remained in largely marginal areas.

Of the roughly 4,500 white farmers before Mugabe’s land redistribution, only a few hundred are still working on farms, according to the Commercial Farmers Union. Mugabe also threatened to evict black farmers who cooperated with whites as partners or managers.

However, in a bid to revive the agricultural sector that has been a mainstay of the country’s economy for decades, Mnangagwa has sought accommodation with whites. He said resettled blacks are free to invite former white farmers as partners. Mnangagwa also said whites are free to apply for land to farm. The state owns all agricultural land and can issue leases, according to the Constitution.

Compensation of whites for infrastructure improvements on farms they used to own will also be paid, a policy started by Mugabe.

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