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Zim returns seized land

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Zimbabwe will return ownership of land to former farmers whose farms were protected by the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (BIPPAs) but seized during the fast-track land redistribution exercise more than 20 years ago, Business Times has learnt.

The move is expected to thaw frosty relations between Harare and western capitals after the former disregarded existing agreements.

 It is understood that out of the 153 farms which were protected under the BIPPAs, 116 were forcibly taken by the government during the land reform programme.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade deputy minister David Musabayana told Business Times that the government would also return the land that was owned by indigenous Zimbabweans.

“It’s very clear if you go to the Constitution, section 72 and you read it with Chapter 16. We will certainly return land under the BIPPAs and that which was owned by indigenous people who have title deeds,” Musabayana said.

“What the government has done so far is to regularise that and align the Constitution by saying whoever was dispossessed of their land during the land reform programme but with title deeds is going to be given their land back or given alternative land.  That land is given back to its original holders.”

Musabayana said there will be an assessment going to be done.

“If the land under BIPPAs was not occupied, they can be given back the occupation and there is an option for compensation,” Musabayana said.

The return of the seized land protected under BIPPAs comes as Brussels has been pressing Harare to respect the agreements.

European Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, told Business Times recently that Zimbabwe has to honour these agreements to show that it is serious in “respecting the property rights, rule of law and Constitution”.

“I hope that the government will come up with a satisfactory conclusion on this because that will be conducive for investment if the issues of compensation and other issues are resolved,” Olkkonen said.

He said the government should act quickly to honour BIPPA agreements to attract investment into the country.

In 2020, Zimbabwe agreed to pay US$3.5bn in compensation to former commercial white farmers whose land was taken by the government to resettle black farmers.

But the farmers under BIPPAs were not included in the compensation deal for the ex-farmers signed in July 2020.

Some critics said the government lacked credibility and goodwill.

It is likely that indigenous farmers who have been occupying the land for years will resist eviction.

“Those A2 farmers have been there for the past 20 years and it is going to be difficult to remove them with some even burying their loved ones there,” a farmer organisation group said.

Musabayana said the government will offer an alternative land if that happens.

Zimbabwe has lost several lawsuits brought against it at international tribunals.

In 2012, the government revoked offer letters for 55 resettled farmers allocated land at Tavydale Farm in Mazowe district. Farmers who had occupied 70 hectares were evicted.

In 2013, Herbert Murerwa, then lands minister, said the government had to revoke offer letters given to resettled farmers on BIPPA land as the lawsuits were a huge burden on the country.

“Government will abide by the provisions of the agreement and at the same time we do not want to increase our liability,” he said then.

About 40 Dutch farmers, whose properties were protected under BIPPA, were awarded a total of US$25m by an international tribunal in April 2009.

In September 2017, the government withdrew 64 offer letters covering nearly 10 000 hectares of plantation land, all under BIPPAs, in Manicaland. Resettled farmers, among them senior Zanu PF officials, had to vacate land they had occupied in the Lowveld in 2016.

The government withdrew offer letters for land owned by Tongaat Hulett, protected under BIPPA.

There were similar evictions in 2014 from conservancies in the Save Valley, where senior Zanu PF officials had helped themselves to 25-year leases on BIPPA-protected properties.

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