MAZOWE, ZIMBABWE - Anxiety and confusion have gripped Zimbabwe's Black farmers after the government said it would return land to some white farmers who were kicked off their land under former president Robert Mugabe. Authorities are seeking to reassure resettled Black farmers in what some fear may be a reversal of land reforms.
Heinrich von Pezold lost part of his land in 2001, in Mazowe district about 100 kilometers north of Harare, as Zimbabwe's government adopted a sweeping land reform policy and began forcing whites off their farms.
Now he may get it back, under an agreement between the German and Zimbabwean governments to protect private investments in their respective countries, known as the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.
The German national took Zimbabwe’s government to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. The arbitration court, based in Washington, ordered the Zimbabwe government to pay compensation to von Pezold.
He is cautiously optimistic following Zimbabwe government’s announcement last week that it would give back land to some white farmers.
“It is a very positive step that the government recognizes its international obligations. However, we have had such announcements before and we are looking for deeds and not the words. We are interested in seeing what the government actually does,” Pezold said.
The Commercial Farmers Union, which represents white farmers in Zimbabwe, refused to comment on last week’s announcement by the government.
Back in July, Zimbabwe’s government signed an agreement with the union to pay $3.5 billion in compensation to white farmers who lost their land, although it remains unclear how the government will raise the money.
Sixty-three year old Emilliana Duri, a former Zimbabwean soldier, is one of those who received part of von Pezold’s land in 2001. She hopes the government’s repossession of land will not affect her.
“It would be painful that the land that we fought for I am being asked to pave way for a white person, when he had left, it’s really painful. I will then start to ask: what did I fight for? It’s the land only. So I must not be displaced. Even for another black person because there is no one who is more important than the other. We are all equal. So it’s painful,” Duri said.
Zimbabwe’s government says only about three percent of those who received land will be affected by new announcement. The rest of the white farmers would be paid for developments they made on their former properties, but not get back their land.
“It’s such a minute proportion of the beneficiaries. The position of the government is that the land reform program is irreversible,” Minister of Agriculture Anxious Masuka said.
The government, meanwhile, wants farmers to concentrate on preparing for the 2020-21 agriculture season, which began last week with tobacco planting.
Government critics say Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector, once the backbone of the economy, went into free fall when Mugabe confiscated land from white commercial farmers and gave it to inexperienced black farmers like Duri.
The government attributes the decline to recurring droughts, which it blames on global climate change.