The Zimbabwe government is quietly allowing scores of white farmers to return, forced into the concession by local communities demanding that land must be given back to those who can make productive use of it.
The climb-down from President Robert Mugabe public declaration that whites “can own companies and apartments in our towns and cities but not the soil” was revealed by deputy attorney general Kumbirai Hodzi on Thursday.
He was speaking at a national anti-corruption strategy dialogue in Harare organised by Transparency International Zimbabwe.
“We have had the so-called land resettlement committees and provincial land committees settling farmers not because of the colour of the skin but because of productivity and they are the ones saying I want that person I do not care that he is white farmer as long as he can produce,” said Hodzi.
He said the local communities have also been demanding that government repossess land handed out to “briefcase farmers” who never set foot on the farms.
Less than 400 white farmers remain from about 4,500 after the government stated land seizures at the turn of the millennium, in an often violent programme Mugabe insisted was necessary to right colonial historic injustices in land ownership.
Despite the programme triggering a collapse in agricultural production and an economic crisis that has lasted a decade and a half, Mugabe has insisted that the remaining white farmers must be driven out.
The country – once a net food exporter – now perennially struggles to feed itself, with some 1,5 million people requiring food aid this year alone.
Black Zimbabweans handed the seized farms have largely failed to make productive use of the land with Mugabe admitting in February this year that: “I think the farms we gave to people are too large. They can’t manage them.”
Although the veteran leader threatened action against reports some of the resettled blacks were leasing the land back to the white former owners, the deputy attorney general said local communities were demanding the return of the ousted landlords.
Hodzi said his office was overwhelmed by recommendations from local communities for the return of the former commercial farmers.
“They have recommended names of white farmers (they want back) where some of us sitting at the national tables we are scared to even acknowledge that.
“In some instances if you go to rural areas and you will find white farmers co-existing not because of any government intervention but because of the efforts of the local communities who say we know this farmer who used to farm and we want him back to be re-settled.”
Hodzi said his office was also receiving requests from local communities asking government to repossess land from “briefcase farmers”.
“For example, I am an Attorney General and I do not know about farming, at the end of the day, I just want land to come at the weekend and do some braai,” he said.
“They (local communities) are saying we do not want you. This is what is happening and has been going on (for some time).
“It is a positive development coming from the communities where people are saying we want issues to be addressed in a non-ideological manner.”
Mugabe rejects criticism that his land reforms triggered the collapse of the country’s agro-based economy which has turned industrial areas into wastelands, leaving unemployment at more than 80 percent.
The veteran leader blames Western sanctions which he maintains were imposed to punish the country for the land reforms.