Relief for white farmers : Government offer 99 year leases

Nqobile Bhebhe,Zimbabwe

AN estimated 300 remaining white farmers in Zimbabwe have been thrown a life line after the new government directed them to be issued with 99-year leases for their land.

Previously, they were only issued five-year leases.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa gave the order early January.

A government letter, dated January 3 which was only published on Wednesday (January 31) , said: “Please be informed that the Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement has directed that all remaining white farmers be issued 99-year leases instead of the five-year leases as per the previous arrangement.”

Nearly all of the remaining white farmers in Zimbabwe occupy only small portions of their original landholding.

Most are growing tobacco, one of Zimbabwe’s top export earners.

It is unclear whether the extended leases will be followed by compensation for the evictions.

The farmers were forced to abandon more then 17 million acres of land as well as equipment, personal possessions, and livestock.

However, two groups of white farmers have since emerged demanding different compensation amounts from government for assets expropriated during the chaotic land redistribution programme.

One group tabled is reportedly pushing for a $30 billion claim and international arbitration while another wants  $9 billion compensation.

While the compensation hot potato was one of Mnangagwa’s earliest promises upon coming to power, he has emphasised that the land reform programme, the ruling party’s centrepiece policy, was not reversible.

On the 99 year leases, a report by the state controlled Herald quoted Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) director Ben Giplin being appreciative of the move.

“We have seen the communication but we are yet to receive any formal communication, but it would be a welcome development” the Herald reported.

“Whilst we are very encouraged, we want to see more clarity on what will happen to those farmers that are still on the farms but had not yet received offer letters because at the moment, there is only a small number that have them.

“We would also want to know what will happen to those farmers who are still interested to go back to farming,” Giplin said.

However, while the leases are a welcome development, it emerged in December 2017 that the Lands and Agriculture ministry only managed to issue two 99-year leases in 2017, while nine 99-year leases were prepared for registration and still await payment, and three were sent for registration.

This came out in the 2018 budget estimates of expenditure (Blue Book) where the ministry was outlining its major achievements of 2017.

The 99-year leases were introduced to address issues of security of tenure in respect to the A2 model, as a tool f