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Zimbabwe Union Cautious About Government's Latest Compensation Offer


In Zimbabwe, the association representing commercial farmers is reacting with caution to the government's latest offer to compensate white farmers for farms seized under a controversial land reform program. The call comes days after the government distributed the first leases to the recipients of seized lands.

The spokeswoman of the Commercial Farmers Union in Harare, Emily Crookes, says the Union is suspicious of the latest compensation offer. She says the Zimbabwean government previously has offered less than 10 percent of the market value of buildings and equipment and no compensation at all for the land itself.

"It's not the first time that such lists have appeared and I think, really, the proof will be in the pudding as to what level of compensation they will offer to all these farmers," she said.

Crookes says her organization has advised farmers on the list to request a copy of the offer in writing and then make their own decision.

The Zimbabwean government says some 240 farmers have accepted compensation since the controversial program was launched seven years ago, 30 of them this year.

About 4,000 farms have been seized since the year 2000 in what the government said was an effort to rectify injustices committed under colonialism. Some farms were occupied by force and the violence led many white farmers to leave the country.

About 900 white-owned commercial farms are reportedly still operating in the country.

The government's offer to discuss compensation with more than 1,000 former farm owners is the largest offer to date. It came a week after President Robert Mugabe distributed the first lot of 99-year leases to beneficiaries of the program.

Crookes says her organization is happy if the latest developments bring more stability but she says the distributions have brought more attempted land-grabs.

"There is quite a bit of disruption once again on the ground, unfortunately. We're doing our best to try and stabilize it as much as possible," she said. "But it does seem with the 99-year leases [that] some have taken it as a call to, well, maybe this is our last chance to grab things [farms]."

Crookes says some white farmers have accepted compensation out of desperation, but many are waiting in hopes of a better deal under a subsequent government.

Economists say the land reform program is largely responsible for the dramatic fall in agricultural production in Zimbabwe. It contributed to a general economic decline characterized by shortages of food and other basic goods and an inflation rate of more than 1,000 percent.