Zimbabwe: Farmers resist compensating evicted white landowners

Zimbabwe's plan to win back international funding by paying compensation to white farmers forced off their land faces a major snag: the black farmers expected to stump up the cash say they don't have it.

The new occupants working the land, many of who had few farming skills when they were resettled, say they can barely make ends meet, let alone pay an extra levy.

Their agricultural output is a fraction of the level seen before 2000, when President Robert Mugabe - saying he sought to correct colonial injustices - introduced land reforms which led to thousands of experienced white farmers being evicted.

They are also being hammered by Zimbabwe's worst drought in a quarter of a century and toiling under a stagnating economy that has seen banks reluctant to lend and cheaper food imports from the likes of South Africa undermining their businesses.

"Are farmers able to pay? I will say no. Is the land being productive? I will say no again," said Victor Matemadanda, secretary general of a group representing war veterans who led the land seizure drive in 2000 and are now farmers.

He told Reuters that many farmers could not even meet water and electricity bills and that it was the government's obligation - not theirs - to pay the compensation.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union President Abdul Nyathi also said his members would not be able to pay compensation. "Most of the farmers face viability issues, the government will have to look at other ways of raising money," he added.

Mugabe's land reforms have led to about 5,000 white farmers being evicted from their land by his supporters and war veterans over the past 16 years, often violently. More than a dozen farmers have been killed.

The land seizures, along with allegations of vote-rigging and rights abuses - all denied by Mugabe - led to Zimbabwe being targeted by sanctions from Western donors. This compounded the economic plight of the country, which saw financing from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and African Development Bank frozen in 1999 after it defaulted on debts.

The IMF's head of mission to Zimbabwe, Domenico Fanizza, said this month that improving fiscal discipline and re-engaging the international community should be priorities for Harare. He said this would "reduce the perceived country risk premium and unlock affordable financing for the government and private sector".
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