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Finance Minister: Zimbabwe Owes Debt to White Farmers

  • Peta Thornycroft

Zimbabwe's Finance Minster Tendai Biti addresses parliament during his presentation of the mid-term fiscal policy statement in Harare. (file photo)

Zimbabwe's Finance Minster Tendai Biti addresses parliament during his presentation of the mid-term fiscal policy statement in Harare. (file photo)

Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe's finance minister, says white farmers who were evicted from their homes and farms by President Robert Mugabe’s supporters must be paid compensation, but says the government can’t finance that debt.

Biti told a meeting of his supporters in Harare earlier this month that it was ridiculous that evictions of white farmers continued long after the so-called land reform program ended.

Zimbabwe could still not feed itself, he said, adding that title deeds in the form of long leases, backed by the law and fully tradeable, should be restored to land taken from white farmers.

That land is owned by the state and none of the so-called new farmers now on that land have security of tenure.

The land reform program initiated by President Mugabe was aimed at redistributing land that the president said was taken from the people of Zimbabwe during the British colonial era.

Biti criticized some of the new farmers, mostly supporters of President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, for failing to restore Zimbabwe’s once-robust agricultural output. He said some of them did not even live on the land they were given but operated their farms via mobile phones from town.

Biti, Secretary General of the Movement for Democratic Change party, also said Zimbabwe desperately needs a land audit following the chaotic land redistribution exercise, and that evicted white farmers must be paid compensation.

“We want to know who owns the land," he said. "How many women have benefited from the land reform? The second thing is the issue of compensation. We estimate that the genuine compensation to farmers is about $3 billion, but Zimbabwe does not have the capacity of paying three billion dollars.”

He said Zimbabwe could not pay $7 billion in foreign debt inherited from the former ZANU-PF administration in 2009.

He suggested that compensation for white farmers could become part of Zimbabwe’s sovereign debt and be settled at some time in the future when Zimbabwe achieved international recognition as a highly indebted state.

He also told supporters that settling the land question was essential to fix the economy.

“This economy will not grow at double-digits growth rates if we don’t fix three things: if we don’t fix our politics, our politics is ugly: If we don’t fix the debt question, and we don’t fix the land question,” said Biti.

A land audit is one of the outstanding issues of the multi-party political agreement which bought the current inclusive government to power 31 months ago.

Biti said that the redistribution of land ended in 2005 and that it was ridiculous that the 200 or so remaining white farmers were still being evicted from their land.

After about 4,000 white farmers who produced about 40 percent of foreign earnings were forced off their land, Zimbabwe's economy collapsed and the country endured record-breaking inflation that helped make the local currency worthless.

Things did not turn around until the the inclusive government adopted the U.S. dollar and the South African rand.

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