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End to land grabs could normalise situation

Country Map - Zimbabwe, South Africa
Neighbours to cooperate further (IRIN)

South Africa is optimistic that an end to land grabs in Zimbabwe, and a shift in focus to compensating farmers and farm workers affected by seizures, will lead to a normalising of Zimbabwe's foreign relations, IRIN has learnt.

The European Union (EU) and United States have slapped sanctions on Zimbabwe for the manner in which the land reform programme and recent presidential elections have been conducted.

Following a ministerial level meeting this week of the re-activated South Africa-Zimbabwe Joint Commission on Cultural, Technical and Scientific Cooperation - which last met in 1996 - it emerged that the Zimbabwe delegation gave "certain assurances" to their counterparts on the execution of the land reform programme.

The Zimbabwean delegation, led by Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge, gave the assurance that the controversial land acquisition and redistribution element of President Robert Mugabe's fast-track programme had been completed.

"They said there would be no more land acquisitions either by war veterans or anyone else," a South African official told IRIN.

The Zimbabweans said acquisition and redistribution were but one of four key elements of the land reform process.

That element would be followed by "the payment of fair compensation to white commercial farmers from whom land was acquired - in terms of this the farmers are entitled to compensation in accordance with undertakings with Britain in the Lancaster House agreement". Mudenge subsequently emphasised Britain's "obligation" in this regard.

However, the EU has reacted strongly to suggestions that Europe and Britain should compensate white farmers for their expropriated land, saying the "reforms were conducted with minimum respect for the rule of law".

The Zimbabwean delegation, meanwhile, emphasised that compensation would only be paid for improvements to land, and "in certain instances the land improvements cost more than the original value of the land", the official said.

Also, the element of compensation would not be restricted to white farmers. Farm workers who had been affected would also be compensated and assisted.

The third and fourth component of land reform sought to provide technical and other assistance to the newly resettled farmers for the effective utilisation of the land. There was concern that viable agricultural land was being wasted.

"So they will focus on the provision of technical and other assistance to farmers, and technical and transitional support to farm workers as well who've been affected," the source said.

The Zimbabwean government has said that since 1980 - under a willing seller/willing buyer land reform programme - 3.6 million hectares were acquired on which 74,000 families were resettled. In the last 24 months, it acquired 11 million hectares of land upon which 300,000 families were resettled.

"One of the things they raised, is that we have to get into a situation where relations between Zimbabwe and the international community are normalised, this is something South Africa has taken up," the official said.

South Africa has championed a "quiet diplomacy" approach to its troubled northern neighbour, which has put it at odds with some Western governments who have called for tougher action and regional condemnation of Mugabe's human rights record.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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