ZIMBABWE’S government signed a $3.5 billion deal to compensate white commercial farmers who were evicted from their land two decades ago.
The agreement is a turning point in a dispute that tipped the southern African nation’s economy into freefall by slashing food production and export income, and incurred sanctions from the U.S. and the European Union.
“Today marks a huge milestone,” Andrew Pascoe, president of the Commercial Farmers Union that represents the White farmers, said Wednesday at a signing ceremony in the capital, Harare. “As Zimbabweans, we have chosen to resolve this long-outstanding issue.”
It’s unclear how the compensation will be funded at a time when Zimbabwe is in the midst of an economic crisis. The country is battling inflation of more than 700%, besides dealing with shortages of currency, fuel and food, and more than 90% of the population out of formal employment.
A committee has been formed by the government, farmers and donors to raise funding for the compensation, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said at the ceremony.
Zimbabwe has endured intermittent food shortages since the government began the often-violent program that seized most White-owned, large-scale farms from 2000. The country’s rulers maintain that the land was taken forcibly during colonial times and needed to be returned to Black residents.
The compensation agreement is for improvements and assets on the more than 4,000 farms that were seized and doesn’t pertain to the land itself, Ben Gilpin, a director of the CFU, said earlier this month.
“This momentous event is historic,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa said at the ceremony. “It brings closure and a new beginning.”
The signing of the compensation accord came few hours after the death of Agriculture Minister Perence Shiri at the age of 65. The government didn’t specify a cause of death.
Shiri was widely criticized by human-rights organizations for his part in masterminding Zimbabwe’s Gukurahundi massacres, which took place between 1982 and 1985 and left as many as 20,000 dead. At the time, Shiri commanded the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, which was accused of mass executions and torture.