Zimbabwe is walking back a part of former leader Robert Mugabe’s policy of exiling white farmers and expropriating their land to black residents.
On Wednesday, the southern African nation agreed to pay $3.5 billion in financial reparations to white farmers.
Reuters reports that despite the agreement, the impoverished nation does not currently have the money to pay the farmers immediately, and will instead issue long-term bonds and solicit support from international donors to cover the costs.
For two decades, the Zimbabwe government under Robert Mugabe ordered the physical removal of white farmers — often violently — and redistributed their land to around 300,000 black families and 50,000 aspiring black commercial farmers to “decolonize” the nation.
The land reform policy led to a significant drop in agricultural output and produced widespread starvation and famine, according to aid agencies.
Quoting the United Nations, a 2002 report in the New York Times described how government officials, in a bid to court black voters, “scrambled to parcel out land to as many people as possible before the presidential election this year. They did so without much planning or coordination.”
Mugabe’s disastrous, socialist-oriented policy was one of Zimbabwe’s many decisions that led to its separation from Western investors and businesses prior to a coup that saw him ousted.
The new agreement, signed at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s State House by Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and acting Agriculture Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, agrees to provide white farmers with compensation for infrastructure on the farms but not the land itself.
The government has not provided a detailed timeline for the financial settlements, but says it will prioritize the elderly. Farmers are expected to receive 50 per cent of the compensation after a year, and the rest within five years.
“As Zimbabweans, we have chosen to resolve this long-outstanding issue,” said Andrew Pascoe of the Commercial Farmers Union representing white farmers.
According to Reuters, public opinion on the reparations remain divided as many still stand by the socialist policies that continue to impact the country’s inability to feed itself without foreign aid.
President Mnangagwa hopes that the new policy will open the door to rebuilding Zimbabwe’s ties with the West, but says the country will not reverse Mugabe’s land reform policy.