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Zimbabwe’s plans to redistribute millions of hectares of White-owned land to Black families Whites has received enthusiastic support from its international donors. At a three-day conference in Bulawayo called by Zimbabwe last September, the government presented the $1.6 billion land redistribution plan to a cross-section of delegates from 40 organisations and countries including the world bank and former colonial power Britain.
The widespread acceptance of the plan represents significant success for President Mugabe who faced stiff opposition after his original announcement of his intention to carry out the redistribution exercise. His government has long argued that the current situation was unjust as it was inherited from colonial times when the bulk of the land was unfairly divided among White people.
Although the delegation agreed that the reform would help redress racial inequality in the country, they were able to force some concessions from the government over the implementation of the program. The final communiqué from the conference made it clear that while Mugabe’s government has international backing for the reform, potential donors want guarantees that the program will benefit the poor rather than line the pockets of a few rich Zimbabweans. They repeatedly stressed the need for fairness and transparency so as to avoid the kind of corruption that plagued earlier attempts at land redistribution. The delegates also forced the government to concede that full compensation will be paid for farms acquired for resettlement. This is an important concession as Mugabe has, in the past, threatened to pay only for improvements on the farms and not for the land itself. He had argued that it made no sense to pay for the return of land that was stolen from Zimbabwe’s Black people by White colonisers in the first place.
The conference agreed that there should be an initial phase during the next two years that would allow for resettlement methods to be tested and for progress to be monitored. This phase would involve resettlement on 118 farms already available to the government and other land yet to be agreed upon, up to a total of one-million hectares. The government had wanted to acquire five-million hectares over the next five years for the resettlement of 150,000 families.
The need for land reform has long been accepted in Zimbabwe, where just four-thousand white farmers own 30 percent of the entire country while millions of Black people live in overcrowded and impoverished communal areas.
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