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Zimbabwe, South Africa to Sign Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement

  • Peta Thornycroft

Governments attribute the delay to President Robert Mugabe's seizure of white-owned farms, including hundreds which belonged to South Africans

After a decade of negotiations, South Africa and Zimbabwe on Friday are scheduled to sign a so-called Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. Officials from both governments attribute the delay to President Robert Mugabe's seizure of white-owned farms, including hundreds which belonged to South Africans.

Rob Davies South African trade and industry minister told VOA that the word land is not in the agreement even though land seizures in Zimbabwe have been central to negotiations towards the deal. But he did say that past events, such as what he called Zimbabwe's "land reform program" would not be addressed retrospectively.

Davies added that the agreement would protect South African interests only from the date it is signed.

This has angered hundreds of South African farmers who had their farms in Zimbabwe seized without compensation. They are even more angered because they have made countless unsuccessful representations for assistance to the South African government since the first of their farms was seized.

Now many are going to the Pretoria High Court early Friday to try and stop the signing of the agreement being signed later in the day in Harare.

Among them is Louis Fick, who this month was forced off his farm 80 kilometers north of Harare.

He told VOA his lawyers in Pretoria had drawn up an urgent application to the High Court for the signing ceremony to be put on hold because he said he and his colleagues suspect their constitutional rights and international law will be broken by this agreement.

He added that if South Africa signed an agreement that explicitly excludes assistance for South Africans for past injustices it would be a clear indication that South Africa condones Mr. Mugabe's seizure of rural property from white farmers.

Fick says the agreement ignores a ruling by the Southern Africa Development Community's Tribunal last year that white farmers in Zimbabwe were victims of racial discrimination and that the few who survived should be left in peace. That court also ordered Mr. Mugabe to pay compensation to farmers already evicted.

South Africa, like Zimbabwe, is a member of SADC.

Crawford van Abo, another South African farmer who is now 75, and who was forced off his ranch early in Mr. Mugabe's purge of white farmers, has an ongoing court case in South Africa. He says he hopes to eventually claim substantial damages from his government for his losses in Zimbabwe.

Earlier this year the World Bank's International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes awarded 13 Dutch farmers evicted from their land and homes in Zimbabwe nearly $12 million which the center said must be paid by Zimbabwe. The government of the Netherlands and Zimbabwe had a bilateral trade and protection agreement.

Although the agreement will provide relief, particularly to South African investors in Zimbabwe's mining, commercial and industrial sectors, some western financial analysts say the unresolved issue of eviction of thousands of white farmers and tens of thousands of their workers, will continue to undermine foreign investor confidence.

Many evicted white farmers or those still struggling to survive on-going attacks say they are disappointed with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change party, who support the agreement. They say white farmers provided considerable funding to the MDC shortly after it was launched in late 1999 and that many of them assisted the MDC fight elections.

In the political agreement which led to formation of Zimbabwe's unity government in February, Mr. Tsvangirai committed his party to recognizing that nearly 10 years of seizures of land from white farmers, including South Africans, was irreversible.

A lawyer in South Africa who did not want to be named said the investment protection agreement was unusual. He told VOA it indicates South Africa has decided to put in the past what he described as Mr. Mugabe's racist land seizures. He said this is inconsistent with South Africa's constitution.

Nearly 20 million acres of white-owned agricultural land was taken from white farmers and most of it was given to members of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF. Satellite images of the seized land shows that about 80 percent of the land taken for crops is fallow.

Mr. Mugabe launched land invasions after he suffered his first political defeat at a referendum early 2000. He said white-owned land was taken to redress the evil of colonialism.

Once the agreement is signed it will have to be ratified by parliaments in both countries.

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