Zimbabwe’s government will allow white farmers to apply for 99-year leases on land, rescinding a policy implemented under former President Robert Mugabe that limited them to five-year contracts.
About 3 500 white Zimbabweans owned close to 4 500 farms until 2000 when government-backed militants began seizing their properties, a move that decimated agricultural production. The southern African nation currently has about 200 active white farmers, according to Ben Giplin, director of the Commercial Farmers’ Union.
White farmers will be included in the 99-year lease programme that was previously restricted to black citizens, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
The policy shift comes two months after Mugabe was toppled as president following 37 years in power and replaced by his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has been on a drive to revive the economy and attract investment. The new administration has also pledged to compensate farmers for improvements that they made to land that was seized.
“We were a colony where our land was taken,” Mnangagwa said in a January 18 interview with Bloomberg News. “We went to war in order to reverse that situation. When we succeeded the next step was for us to take our land back. It’s now behind us.”
Giplin said it remained unclear how the new policy would work.
“We are still to know who will benefit or how it will be implemented because some of the farmers had cases before the courts,” he said by phone. “Some of the farmers are now operating under joint-venture agreements. They will be a meeting today to discuss the directive and only then we will be able to come up with a proper position.”
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