Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Mugabe, Tsvangirai, Ncube set for UK land talks

Mugabe, Tsvangirai, Ncube set for UK land talks

16/06/2011 00:00:00

by Staff Reporter

Careful approach … British Prime Minister David Cameron

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry Minister Welshman Ncube are set to launch a high-level engagement with Britain to discuss compensation for white farmers who lost their land.

The planned discussions will be the first time that Mugabe would be openly engaging Britain on the land issue since his government embarked on the controversial land reforms in 2000 aimed at resettling landless blacks.

Hundreds of white farmers were driven off their land after the then Zanu PF government passed legislation empowering the compulsory acquisition of farms without compensation.

Ministers insisted at the time that Britain had refused to compensate the farmers, breaking its commitments made at 1979 Lancaster House talks which opened the way for majority rule in Zimbabwe.

A review document of Zimbabwe’s power sharing government by the country’s three main political parties, which was presented to the SADC summit in Johannesburg last weekend, says the three leaders will “write to the United Kingdom” urging the former colonial power to “accept the primary responsibility to pay compensation for land acquired”.

The engagement could start within weeks.

Britain broke off land talks with Zimbabwe in 1997 after the then International Development Secretary Claire Short (Labour) said that the UK did not accept that it had a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe.

Short stated that her government was only prepared to support a programme of land reform that was part of a poverty eradication strategy, stating in a letter to the Zimbabwe government: “I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe.

“We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and, as you know, we were colonised, not colonisers.”

The tone of the letter infuriated Mugabe whose government offered no protection to white farmers when war veterans and landless peasants marched on farms, forcibly driving out white land owners.

Britain responded to the land seizures by ostracising Mugabe’s government, before lobbying the European Union to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2002, officially presented as a response to human rights abuses by Zanu PF shock troops.

It is unknown how the UK will respond to overtures by the Zimbabwean leaders, but last month, former Labour leader and Prime Minister Tony Blair – who presided over the breakdown in relations between London and Harare – insisted that his government had set aside money for land reform.

“One of the myths that Mugabe used was this thing that we wouldn’t provide money for land reform,” Blair said. “I set aside the amount of money they needed for land reform, but one important thing was that the money had to go through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and not through his government machine, because if it went through his government machine it wasn’t going to be used for the purposes for which it was directed.

“Therefore, that was the issue; not that we wouldn’t fund the land reform, we were happy to do that. And still are, by the way!”

Mugabe has recently expressed hope that Zimbabwe can re-engage with Britain, saying of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron: “He seems to be quiet for now. I have been listening to what he says. They may talk about Zimbabwe in general terms, but I haven’t heard him making really critical remarks about me.”

And Zanu PF strategist Jonathan Moyo told UK media last week that Cameron’s “circumspect and careful” attitude had reduced the levels of “noise and tension” between the two sides, suggesting that Mugabe would welcome “constructive” dialogue with him.



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