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Harare backs down on farm seizures

Economy

Zimbabwe had stopped seizing farms protected by foreign investment accords, Land Reform Minister Herbert Murerwa said yesterday.

A German commercial farmer is suing the government for $600 million (R5 billion) in compensation for his eviction under President Robert Mugabe’s land seizure programme, while Dutch farmers have lodged a case at the US-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

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Local workers plant cassava stems at a farm belonging to a white Zimbabwean farmer in Shonga, Nigeria, on Tuesday, July 29, 2008. White farmers fleeing Robert Mugabe’s land seizures in Zimbabwe, have decided to settle in Shonga in central Nigeria, hoping to spark an agricultural revolution in Africa’s most populous country with modern farming techniques. Photographer: George Osodi/Bloomberg News

The bilateral investment promotion and protection agreements that Harare signed with countries including Belgium, Botswana, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and South Africa stipulate that compensation must be paid for any assets seized.

“It’s a position we have taken for now that all farms under [bilateral] agreements will not be acquired under the land reform programme,” Murerwa said. People would “not be settled on those farms that are under [such] agreements. We will respect the agreements we have.”

Several white farmers have sought the return of their land in court since Mugabe’s administration began seizing commercial farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans in 2000.

The campaign forced more than 3 000 farmers off their land and displaced 1 million workers and their dependents, according to a 2008 estimate by the UN. – Bloomberg

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