In 2000, President Robert Mugabe faced with a very tight election contest announced the eviction of hundreds of Zimbabwe white farmers to pave way of the resettlement of landless Africans. His argument was that this would correct inequalities brought about by the British during their rule in Zimbabwe when three quarters of the most fertile land was given to white farmers.Many political commentators dismissed the move as an election ploy which was likely to have a serious negative impact on the country’s long-term economic stability .Their reasons were that Africans who were to occupy the land were yet to get adequate infrastructure, financial support or training to carry out farming on a large scale. On top of that, Zimbabwe’s commercial farming sector provided almost half of the of the country’s export earnings and was the largest single employer in the country, and therefore its disruption through forceful evictions was likely to lead to food shortages and unemployment.
International donors and partners also joined in to condemn Mugabe’s proposed fast-track resettlement scheme warning that it would precipitate serious chaos. To solve the crisis, officials from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP )and the then President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, made mediation efforts which included attempts to raise funds internationally to enable the Government buy white-owned farms. But their efforts were rejected by Mugabe who stated categorically that foreigners had no right to dictate how the land reform was to be carried out.
Despite the pleas Mugabe signed a law giving the 2,900 farmers 90 days to vacate or defy and face two years in jail. Some of the farmers complied and vacated while others decided to stay put. Those who decided to stay were forcefully evicted , some of them violently with crude weapons.
Many western countries reacted by imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe for going against democratic standards by holding a sham election and threatening fundamental human freedoms through its radical land reform programme. Those sanctioned by the U.S. government were 79 senior government officials, among them Mugabe himself and his family. Their assets in the United States were also frozen and they were banned from conducting any business with US companies and visiting the country.
A statement from the U.S. government clarified that the officials had been targeted for formulating and executing policies that violated democracy and human rights. In 2002 the European Union also followed suit and , froze assets of prominent officials members of the of Zimbabwean Government and their families. But despite the sanctions and accusations that he was destroying the country’s economy, Mugabe still carried on with his land reforms.
In 2007 as Mugabe’s health began to deteriorate some of his comrades led by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa began to plot on how to succeed him but with time this turned into a coup plot. During the period Reuters managed to access hundreds of confidential documents at Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) in which the then Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa laids out his plan for Zimbabwe.
His plan was to revive the agricultural sector which was the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy by building a good relationship with thousands of white farmers who had been evicted from their farms by Mugabe . The farmers were to be compensated and reintegrated, according to the Reuters report. Mnangagwa felt that reviving the agricultural sector would be vital, for the country’s long term economic stability. “Mnangagwa realises he needs the white farmers on the land when he gets into power… he will use the white farmers to resuscitate the agricultural industry, which he reckons is the backbone of the economy,” read part of the report.
When Mugabe learnt of the plot he fired Mnangagwa accusing him of planning to take power from him , but it was too late. A bloodless coup followed sooner than expected with Mugabe being placed under house arrest. Mnangagwa who had fled to exile after being threatened was installed as the new leader after his return, while the military chief, Constantino Chiwenga became his deputy. The elections which were held some months later validated his leadership after he defeated the Movement for Democratic Change MDC candidate with a huge margin.
At his inauguration he gave the White farmers hope by promising to improve the economy, to revive agriculture and to respect property rights. He followed up on the promises by granting White farmers 99-year leases to land, as long as they agree to invest in the land and accept to be treated like Black Zimbabweans. This was totally different from the policy during Mugabe’s era when White farmers were issued with leases that were renewable after every five years. White farmers who had fled Zimbabwe were also encouraged to return provided they applied for land like other Zimbabweans.
To improve diplomatic relations with western countries , a compensation scheme was recently introduced by the Government , mainly targeting farmers who were evicted. In last year’s budget a total of $17.5 million was set aside for this purpose. Although , the White dominated Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) welcomed the gesture , it complained that the money being mentioned was not enough . Meanwhile the Government is still working on the right compensation amount it hopes will be acceptable.
The question of land is still emotive in Zimbabwe and a number of Africans have come out to criticize the Government arguing that if the White farmers are to compensated, then Africans who provided cheap labour during the oppressive white regime should also be compensated. Across the border in South Africa, economic freedom fighter Mr. Julius Malema has slammed Mnangagwa warning him that the people of Zimbabwe would soon turn against him for “paying for colonialism.”
“That country is swimming in a pool of poverty and anyone compensating stolen land is a sell-out. Mnangagwa is reversing the gains of the revolution and is proving to be worse than Mugabe. He gets money to people who don’t deserve any compensation. Anyone who compensates them for stolen land is a sell-out. Anyone who compensates for the expropriation of land is a sell-out,” he argued.