The government is mulling yet another amendment to the constitution to effectively nationalise commercial farms owned by foreign nationals in Zimbabwe, barely a year after making concessions on the matter, it has emerged.
Processes are already afoot to amend section 289 of the constitution and repeal Statutory Instrument (SI) 62 of 2020 to effectively ban freehold title deeds for farms covered by Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPAs).
Under the new proposed laws drafted last week, only indigenous farmers who bought land before the controversial land reform programme will be spared.
The proposed changes to the constitution and SI 62, which deals with Land Commission (Gazetted Land)(Disposal in Lieu of Compensation) Regulations, are likely to strain relations with many western countries whose citizens lost their land during the land reform programme.
Last year, Zimbabwe pledged to return land to dispossessed farmers who were covered by BIPPAs as part of the US$3,5 billion compensation deal with white farmers.
The moves to change the rules, said to be spearheaded by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, will mark a major policy reversal by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.
Chiwenga is said to have held marathon meetings with several government officials in recent days to push through his proposals.
The VP reportedly met attorney General Prince Machaya, Lands minister Anxious Masuka and Finance minister Mthuli Ncube on the matter.
His personal assistant, Major General Godfrey Chanakira, was also present in the meetings where Chiwenga reportedly ordered Machaya to amend the constitution to abolish freehold title deeds on Bippa farms, claiming it was tantamount to reversing the land reform programme.
“Chiwenga later went to meet the president in the company of Machaya to apprise him of his decision and get the greenlight to amend the constitution,” a government official disclosed.
“Machaya was instructed to draft the changes to the constitution and an SI has already been made.
“A draft amendment has already been prepared for circulation.
“The draft will be fast-tracked in Parliament using the ruling party’s majority.”
Zanu PF enjoys a two-thirds majority in Parliament and with the ongoing recalls of opposition legislators by Douglas Mwonzora, any proposed changes to the constitution are likely to sail through without any resistance.
Under the proposed changes to section 289 of the constitution and SI 62, BIPPA farms would be put under 99-year leases that can be withdrawn by a minister.
Government will also abolish title deeds for all land in Zimbabwe, except for some indigenous farmers who bought the farms before the land reform programme.
The proposed changes will likely affect the goodwill President Mnangagwa wanted to build on with the West as his government is already being accused of policy inconsistency.
Since he took over as president after Mugabe’s fall, Mnangagwa has been preaching re-engagement gospel as he battles to attract much-needed investment in Zimbabwe. Addressing Harare’s packed 60,000-capacity National Sports Stadium when he came to power following a military coup in 2017, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was now “ready and willing for a steady re-engagement with all the nations of the world”.
He said “key choices will have to be made to attract foreign direct investment to tackle high-levels of unemployment while transforming our economy”.
And pledging a “new destiny” for Zimbabwe, he added: “Let us humbly appeal to all of us that we let bygones be bygones.”
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Virginia Mabhiza said she was unaware of the proposed amendments and Machaya referred questions to Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Monica Mutsvangwa.
Mutsvangwa, however, yesterday said she was too busy to comment.
— The Standard