3 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Govt Criticised for 'Empty' Pledge to Stop Farm Seizures

The government is facing criticism for making 'empty' promises to stop the illegal seizure of internationally protected farms, while still refusing to pay compensation for the properties it has already taken.

Lands Minister Herbert Murerwa said this week that the government had resolved to halt the takeover of properties meant to be protected by Bilateral Investment Protection Agreements (BIPPAs). These agreements, signed by the Zimbabwe government and international countries with investments in the country, are meant to offer the foreign owners some protection and promise of compensation should their investments be taken over.

But out of 153 BIPPA protected farms in Zimbabwe, more than 110 have been taken over without any compensation being paid. This has led to the government being ordered to pay compensation to a group of Dutch farmers who approached the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ISCID).

The Dutch farmers, kicked off their Zimbabwean farms ten years ago, have since last year stepped up their campaign to ensure they are compensated. According to the ISCID, the Zimbabwe government owes the farmers almost 24 million euros.

"Although under Zimbabwean law government can legally acquire such farms, in view of the ongoing litigation in the ISCID, we have taken the decision not to settle persons on farms covered by BIPPA for now," Murerwa told the Herald newspaper this week.

He added: "Government will abide by the provision of the agreement and at the same time we do not want to increase our liabilities." Murerwa also said that offer letters already issued to black settlers to occupy such properties were being revoked.

John Worsley-Worswick from Justice for Agriculture (JAG) told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that making such promises was like "locking the stable door after the horse has bolted." He said little faith can be put in such pledges, when the government has previously ignored and flouted international agreements and numerous court orders meant to protect property rights.

"For example, those Dutch nationals in that international case were guaranteed that the government would pay immediately as laid out by the court. To date Zimbabwe has reneged on that. So why should one have any respect whatsoever, or faith in the Zimbabwe government adhering to its undertakings?" Worsley-Worswick said.

He also explained that the government's refusal to honour the BIPPAs has left people in danger, not only of losing their properties. Late last year a Dutch farmer was shot in the face in an ongoing battle to remain on his farm. Piet Zwanniken is lucky to be alive after the bullet went through his nose and grazed his cheek. He told SW Radio Africa last year that he survived an "assassination attempt" launched by a suspected CIO agent who wants his farm.

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