Land reform is a divisive issue in Zimbabwe. Those against it raise the argument that property rights were infringed and that compensation should be paid to the white farmers who lost land. Those for it say it was for redressing colonial imbalances in the ownership of land. After all, land was one of the major reasons that drove black Zimbabweans to war.
The government had made prior plans to compensate white farmers who had land expropriated. In January 2019, Zimbabwe's Agriculture minister Perence Shiri said that the government would do everything it can so that the white farmers are "rightfully" compensated. The government had also said that compensation would start for those that were in deep financial distress.
True to their word, compensation has started. Ben Gilpin, who is the director of the Commercial Farmers Union told Bloomberg that 28 farmers had already received payments of $8,748 each. This year, the country set aside $8.4 million for the purposes of compensating white farmers.
More payments are said to be processed. Government previously said that compensation is for infrastructure and improvements on farms, not the actual land.
Zimbabwe right now is in the doldrums. The country is reeling from a serious economic meltdown that has caused untold suffering for its citizens. Some will say that this should have been used for other nobler causes, like getting essential medicine for the country's ailing health system. Or solve the power crisis that has plunged the whole country into darkness.
But when it comes to Zimbabwe's government, being prudent with the country's finances is a concept which is alien to them.
Compensating white farmers for land that they originally stole from black people through the sheer use of brutal force does not add up. The land reform program in 2000 was violent, haphazard, chaotic, and unplanned. It resulted in the freefall of the economy. Land reform was a tactic used by Robert Mugabe to restore his fading popularity. For Mugabe, redressing colonial imbalances was a pretext. Farms were distributed on a partisan basis, meaning they ended up in the hands of the political, military and business elite, many of whom did not have agricultural knowledge.
Land reform has become a double-edged sword for Zimbabweans. One will always ask themselves how justifiable it is to compensate white people for land that they stole.
Header image credit - The South African