SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: New A1 Farmers Permits Illegal, Says Cross

Economist Eddie Cross has said until compensation is paid the government has got 'no legal right' to issue any form of security or title rights to anybody occupying seized farmland.

The MDC-T legislator was reacting to reports that government will, starting from next month, issue A1 farmers with new permits that govern the use of the land. Government claims that the permits will endorse the farmers' security of tenure and will bring sanity to its land grab programme.

Lands and rural resettlement minister Douglas Mombeshora said the offer letters that the farmers were using were ineffective as they were 'not detailed' and the process of obtaining one was confusing.

He said the new permit, which will be signed by both the owner and the spouse, gives guidelines on the inheritance of the farm if the owner dies. He also claimed that 'the permit is just the same as the 99-year lease and it works as a title deed for the land.'

But Cross said: 'The reality is that the government doesn't have the legal right to do that. People don't understand that until compensation is paid to the original owners they cannot take title to the properties.'

He added: 'That is the problem confronting the government and until they resolve that problem they are not free to do what they want in as far as conferring title rights is concerned.'

Cross's comments come at a time when large scale farmers are struggling to obtain loans from the banks who view them as risky business because they don't have title deeds, legal documents that give them ownership of the land.

Government handed out some 99 year leases to the large scale farmers also known as A2 farmers but these leases have not been of any help as they show that the land belongs to the state leading to the banks' refusal to lend to people with no collateral to back up to the loan.

The farmers' problem was made worse when in February the government, which had been supporting them with inputs and equipment for a decade, abandoned them saying they should 'kneel' before the same banks.

The A1 and A2 farmers are beneficiaries of the ZANU PF government's land grab exercise. Land was seized and parceled out to various individuals, without anyone buying or paying compensation for the land. This means the title deeds remained with the original owners of the farms.

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