White farmers: We won't 'blindly endorse' govt policies in the agricultural sector

Harare – The Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe (CFU) has reportedly pledged to work with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to boost the country’s agricultural productivity and contribute towards economic growth and development.

According to the state-owned Herald newspaper, speaking at the national land tenure and policy dialogue over the weekend, CFU director, Ben Gilpin, acknowledge that the union was set up to represent the interest of white farmers since it was founded 100 years ago.

Gilpin said that inequalities had contributed to the rationale for radical land reforms that the southern African country went through in the past two decades.

He said the union was "committed to the comprehensive recovery of Zimbabwe and will do our best to facilitate this".

Gilpin, however, warned that this did not mean that they would "blindly endorse" government policies or practices in the agricultural sector.

The remaining white farmers Zimbabwe will now get 99-year land leases, according to a new government policy that was announced recently - marking a dramatic change from widespread evictions of whites from farms.

Outrage and sanctions 

President Mnangagwa was breaking away from the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms carried out by his predecessor and mentor Robert Mugabe, who resigned in November under military pressure.

The new policy would give remaining white farmers new security from expropriations.

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Since 2000, Mugabe's often violent land redistribution programme saw the ruling Zanu-PF party, led by veterans of the 1970s war against white minority rule, evict most of Zimbabwe's white farmers.

The seizures were meant to redress colonial land ownership imbalances that were skewed against blacks, Mugabe said. Some in the international community responded with outrage and sanctions.

Land ownership was an emotional issue with political and racial overtones in this southern African country where under colonial Rhodesian rule, whites were allocated the best agricultural land and blacks were pushed out to mostly arid land with poor soil.

Whites made up less than 1% of Zimbabwe's population of 14 million, but until Mugabe's seizures they owned huge tracts of the best farmland while blacks remained in largely marginal areas.

Of the roughly 4 500 white farmers before Mugabe's land redistribution, only a few hundred were still working on farms, according to the CFU. 

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