In a new twist in the saga over compensation of white farmers who were ejected from their farms in Zimbabwe, two groups of dispossessed landowners have emerged, one of which argues that government is not liable and should not pay for land.
Invasions of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe began in 2000 and have continued since. However, compensation has not been forthcoming from the Zimbabwe Government, despite international arbitration awards, in some cases more than ten years ago.
The African News Agency (ANA) has seen claims about a newly formed group, the Compensation Steering Committee (CSC), in an open letter written by former Zimbabwean commercial farmer, Ben Freeth, to all dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers.
The former president of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, John Laurie, is reported to have addressed an “inaugural stakeholders meeting” with government on April 6 at the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare. The meeting, which catered for about 50 attendees, was reported to have been chaired by the government’s Permanent Secretary for Lands and Rural Resettlement, Grace Mutandiro.
Freeth said Laurie claims to represent dispossessed farmers under the CSC, even though the new organisation is taking the position that there should be no compensation for land, but only for developments made on it.
Freeth – whose father-in-law, Mike Campbell, took the land dispute to the Southern African Development Community’s regional human rights court, the SADC Tribunal – insists the CSC does not represent all dispossessed farmers. Campbell was joined by other farmers in the lawsuit and in the end there were 77 farmers behind the court action.
Freeth says he has written his open letter to dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers to raise awareness about developments around the issue of compensation and the newly formed CSC, which he charges with unilaterally deciding to “absolve the government of its responsibilities”.
The CSC is on record as saying that it represents all farming bodies (and approximately 90% of the commercial farmers) in negotiations for compensation with the Zimbabwe Government.
Freeth – whose father-in-law was hounded off his Mount Carmel farm by long-time cabinet minister Nathan Shamuyarira – disagrees.
“I can’t comment about other groups, but I know for a fact that the Southern African Commercial Farmers’ Alliance (SACFA) never endorsed the CSC – even though John Laurie stated at the Rainbow Towers Hotel that SACFA had endorsed the CSC,” he said.
“This new organisation is apparently conceding that there should be no compensation for the land. I object in the strongest possible terms to this concession.”
The mango farmer added that he was “dumbfounded that Laurie should make such a concession and claim to absolve the government of its responsibilities”.
Freeth said the compensation process must cover in the full “basket” of international human rights breaches committed during the land grabs process.
“The human rights obligations that Zimbabwe is signed up to protect must be fully dealt with. International law must be brought into play. Comparable sales values with farms in the sub-region must be used to get a fair value for the land.
“We have a situation here where we as the dispossessed are purportedly being represented by the CSC which is negotiating with the very same thief – the Zimbabwe government – that has dispossessed us.
“This government has illegally stolen our businesses, livelihoods and homes, as well as those of our workers, wrecking countless lives and brutalising thousands in the process. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and the country’s agro-based economy has been destroyed.”