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Last Updated: Monday, 24 April 2006, 08:28 GMT 09:28 UK
Zimbabwe confirms white farm move
White farmer in Zimbabwe
Critics say the reforms have devastated the economy
Zimbabwe has confirmed that it is offering land to white farmers who had their property seized under President Robert Mugabe's land reform programme.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the BBC any Zimbabwean can apply for land and that farms would be allocated on long leases.

But he said that farmers would not necessarily get back land they lost.

Critics say the reforms have devastated Zimbabwe's agriculture-based economy and led to massive food shortages.

On Friday, the Commercial Farmers' Union said 200 white farmers had applied for land over the past two weeks.

In 2000, there were some 4,000 white farmers working on much of the best land. Just 300 remain after a campaign of often violent land seizures.

Agricultural collapse

The Zimbabwe government is portraying white farmers as having finally come to their senses, accepting that they cannot resist Mr Mugabe's land reform programme.

"They are begging us for land," Mr Matonga told the BBC.

2000: 237m kg
2004: 69m kg
2005: 73m kg
But BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut hard facts have driven this policy U-turn.

By confiscating the white-owned commercial farms, the government transformed a country that was once the breadbasket of Southern Africa into a net food importer.

And despite good rains there is every prospect of another deficit over the coming season, our correspondent says.

Mr Mugabe has admitted that there was corruption in the distribution of the farms seized from the whites.

Poor blacks farmers, in whose name the land reform was carried out, were often left to fend for themselves.

Without capital, implements or seed, many failed to use the land productively and agricultural output has collapsed.

Tobacco used to be Zimbabwe's major export earner but production has fallen from 237m kg in 2000 to 73m kg last year.

President Robert Mugabe
President Mugabe this month celebrated 26 years in power
The white farmers are being invited to apply for land on the same basis as other Zimbabweans. Successful applicants will be given 99-year leases.

The unclear legal status of the farms is another factor in the declining agricultural output, which the government hopes will soon be solved.

Zimbabwe is now poorer than it was at independence in 1980, after it had survived 16 years of sanctions and eight years of civil war.

Mr Mugabe says his policy is designed to reverse colonial policies, which saw blacks evicted from their land and moved into marginal areas.

He says Zimbabwe's economic problems stem from a western campaign to bring down his government.

Are you a white farmer who had their property seized under President Robert Mugabe's land reform programme? What do you think about this 99-year lease plan? Would you apply for land?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

The trend of the comments on this page tells the story. While the blacks are not totally in support of what Mugabe did to get the land back, they cannot help but cry out for the injustice all blacks in Africa have suffered due to colonialism. The point is no white has written agreeing to the fact that the land was not theirs in the first place even if they've been on it for generations. I think it is only fair for the white farmers to admit to the injustice they've done to Africans over the years, the blacks should also agree that what Mugabe did was also wrong. Therefore both white and black that are interested in taking up land should do so after all the business experts will say the higher the risk, the higher the returns!
Apera, Abuja, Nigeria

Zimbabweans are an inclusive society. Always have been and always will be, and that is why white Zimbabweans are now getting a chance to own land. That's all. For all those white people who are whining about how you owned your farms for generations, I would like to ask. How much did you pay our ancestors for them? Our ancestors owned those lands since time immemorial. How much did you pay us? How do you think our ancestors felt when you forcibly took away our land? Some were killed by you and some died through heart attacks and utter grief. What goes around, comes around. We don't need you, so you don't have to apply for land. This provision is for those who see Zimbabwe as home and want nothing else. I am glad they applied. Welcome home.
Tambu, Harare, Zimbabwe

I would prefer to see black Zimbabweans acquiring farming expertise and while it might be helpful to have some white farmers return, I think it would be, going forward also helpful to ensure that the Zimbabweans are trained. Every country offers immigration benefits to those with expert knowledge and in the case of the white farmers we certainly welcome them and would be happy to have them contribute to the economy.
Tendai, USA

Similar land reform was implemented in my country the Philippines way back in the 60s. The results was unexpected and tragic. No pre-qualification, lack of funds for seeds, irrigation, machinery and market distribution doomed the farmers. Zimbabwe should have made a better model to avoid such a disaster. Giving back the land may be too late to avert starvation.
E Yap, Chicago, USA

Commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe is dead, never to rise to its dizzy heights, thanks to Joseph Made. We are now witnessing the rise of subsistence and peasant farming which will take us nowhere. In fact in as long as this system is in place we are doomed. It took 100 years to build a solid agriculture base that was the envy of the world. In fact Zim Agriculture was one of top four countries in the world in terms of research in agriculture. It took six years for the successful land reform to undo that success.
Vezindaba Mtungwa Khumalo, Harare, Zimbabwe

As a black Namibian, I am purely African. Looking at what happened to Namibia during 100 years of apartheid is the same as what happened to fellow black Zimbabweans. Before the introduction of colonialism in Africa, no country depended on the other for food and the whites should know that. We had all what we needed before they came here with a bible and a gun. The USA and Britain should know that they were and still are die hard supporters of colonialism in any form.

My question is did they ever support blacks to get their lands back? Africans are starving (in millions) because they do not have land to work on since theirs was taken by intruders and the rest of the Western world should know that. Long live President Robert Mugabe. Continue to lead Zimbabwe to greater heights, since the sanctions imposed on your government are Western ideologies aimed at keeping Africans poor.
Jonson, Windhoek, Namibia

Apart from the problems that happened, Zimbabwe still retains its place as a peace loving country. Farmers should return to their land and all other Zimbabweans scattered all over the world will follow. Politicians don't live forever. Let's go and build our country again. To those who have applied well done!
Richard Cole, London

I was born and brought up on a large farm in Zimbabwe. My parents were well liked and respected, not only amongst the community but by all the labour who worked for our family - a fact proven many times over when they risked their lives for us literally. I was sent away for safety, and my parents followed within the year. My father has since died, and my mother and I now live back in the UK. We have often discussed those years, and our lives, and we would not go back. We do not regret the time, but I personally would not go back there to support the regime that has destroyed and killed so many people - both white and black.
Jax, Cambridgeshire, UK

I believe that the Mugabe government has made serious errors but I am amazed at the extent to which the West is able to overlook the injustices of colonialism and the fact that white farmers owned much of Zimbabwe through a basic injustice that had to be addressed. Better to die free than to live in slavery may be applicable here.
Keme Amana, Harare, Zimbabwe

The main lesson here is that you cannot steal land or deal in stolen land and not expect any form of retribution whether you are white or black. Implementation of Mugabe's policy was bad. At least the reasons for Mugabe's policy were initially well intended. The new policy of leasing land is the correct approach. I think any white farmer is going to want certain assurances from the government of Zimbabwe before they take up any offers.
Peter Mbey, Surrey, England

Many of my friends and their families were kicked off farms that had been in their family for generations and it wasn't just the farms that were seized and white farmers beaten to death; it also affected health (heart attacks, cancer, strokes, stress related diseases) marriages broke up and families torn apart and to be honest they would all tell Mugabe to burn in hell before they set foot in Zim again.
Claire Lawden, London

No I would not apply for land. Why should I lease my farm back from a government that illegally took it from me, when it was a highly productive enterprise? I bought the property in 1995 after a "Certificate of no interest" had been granted by government. Also what guarantees would there be that it won't happen again? That trust has gone!
Peter Foreman, Buderim, Australia

Any white farmer who has left Zimbabwe and settled would be stupid to return. Robert Mugabe has systematically destroyed all that he was presented on a plate in 1980. The only reason why he needs those white farmers now is to avert mass starvation of his supporters. The next time Mugabe - or a successor - needs a scapegoat those same white farmers will find themselves in the firing line.
Jon, Cardiff

It's been too long for Mugabe to realise that what he did was not acceptable. Yes, the indigenous (black Zimbabweans) needed the land, but the way it was done is what has brought all the misery that the people are going through. Let's hope all will be back to normal.
Matsatsi, Lusaka, Zambia

Though he is unlikely to admit he's failed in his controversial land reform programme, but surely Mugabe must feel like he has got egg on his face right now. He should just do the country and its citizens a favour by retiring and allow free and fair elections.
Mark Grimes, Sunderland, UK

My sister and brother-in-law had their farm and home taken over three years ago, following about seven years of harassment. At this time we moved them and my mother from Harare to Europe. I have helped them establish a small, high technology farm in the Gironde region of France. The farmers in France, the French government and the local banks were very helpful in this endeavour. They were both born in Zimbabwe, loved their home and their country and were successful in their chosen occupation. Surely it must represent an extreme in intellectual blindness, verging on idiocy, to expect that those such as my sister and brother-in-law would return to the surreal hypocrisy that has been Zimbabwe over the last two decades.

The BBC does draw attention to the economic demise of my country, however the mismanagement and incompetence of Mr Mugabe and a succession of corrupt officials has been a consistent theme since independence. The World Bank's Country Assistance Evaluation undertaken by OED (now IEG) in 2001, if I recall, illustrates this incompetence and the blindness of so many of the donor community for so long. This is a public document and in its "dry" prose provides an intellectual insight into one of Africa's many tragedies. The one in Zimbabwe could have been avoided.
Roger J Robinson, Yerevan, Armenia

My father built the farm and I was at college learning horticulture to diversify our farming program away from tobacco. In the first months of starting we were thrown off unceremoniously. It was shocking the way the workers were treated and the abuse they received. 99-year leases are the way forward however rule of law has to be re-instated. Any person putting into the land now without any guarantees runs the risk of loss and suffering as no lease or paper will stop the thugs on the ground. I would apply for land however what happens to my land, do I move onto someone's previous farm and take their house?

What happens to the "new reformed" farmers who are on the ground? This is not just an application form to fill in as a lot of questions have to be answered and positive government actions seen before I start applying. My neighbour and our friends and family were severely beaten and several have not moved on emotionally... what about that? The people responsible must be hunted down, Mugabe must be convicted before he dies.
John, Lusaka, Zambia

President R Mugabe made a big mistake or a sin to impose the land reform system on the favour of black people without providing to them tractors and others materials for farm work. The Chinese former President Mao Zedong did the same mistake thinking that he was supporting the poor people. President R Mugabe was supposed to learn from the Chinese situation during President Mao Zedong's rule and after.
Mugozi Kitoko Issa, Uvira, DR Congo

I guess the lessons have been leant by Mr Mugabe as he has even invited those who need to farm again. Who lost the battle? Shame on him that by taking the farms away from those who can actually produce better has caused chaos. My understanding is that he just realized the mistake he made. It will be nice for him to apologise first. I will apply for land if I get guarantees for those 99-year leases.
I Hamdan al-Balushi, Muscat, Oman

All I can say is what a joke! Those 200 farmers who applied for land must be really desperate. I would never want to farm in a country like Zimbabwe, who knows how long it will take before the next "land distribution". I hope the South African government learns from this, almost 2,000 white farmers have been killed on their farms since the end of apartheid, without these essential farmers people will starve.
Warren, London

Listen to Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga

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