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Lord Plunket: My Lords, as I have lived and worked in Zimbabwe for over 40 years I must declare that interest. I am not a Zimbabwean citizen. If I were, I should not be able to take the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty and thus stand here and address your Lordships. However, the merits of that of course your Lordships can judge for yourselves.
When the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, about land reform and acquisition was tabled on the Order Paper, Zimbabweans were voicing their general disgruntlement but the civil unrest had not begun. The rioting was the result of the government's inept handling of the economy and unpopular measures to deal with the effects of rising inflation and the hike in the price of basic foodstuffs. It was not about land reform.
The economy and well being of the population depend on the Zimbabwean Government finding solutions to both problems. Proof of that is that only last Thursday there was a new initiative and the national economic forum--my noble friend Lord Acton mentioned it--was formed and had its first meeting attended by President Mugabe, his three cabinet ministers most involved, the leaders of industry and the president of the Commercial Farmers Union of which I am an ordinary member. At that meeting the CFU put forward a plan for land reform. It was well received and is at this moment the only structured proposal on the table. It is important that the emotional concept and the constitutional and legal position of land reform do not become confused.
The war, our war, as we call the senseless fighting in the late 70s, was about land inequitably distributed between black and white. Much has already been redressed. Where 100 white families lived between Chimanimani on the borders of Mozambique, where I grow trees, and Mutare, our nearest town 100 miles away, there is not one single white farmer left. No trouble, no fuss, my Lords. Then there are areas where thousands of hectares have been bought for resettlement which are lying derelict for lack of infrastructure, know-how and wherewithal.
That causes frustration and fosters the myth that the land was stolen and the people have the right to take it back. But it is not like that. Of the farms listed, 70 per cent.--it is important to get it straight that the 1,500 farms have been listed under the Land Acquisition Act; none of them has been designated to
The past, the present and the future were all given recognition in the new constitution, so patiently and successfully negotiated by my noble friend Lord Carrington. This has been amended in the meanwhile but it still remains and in the context of land reform gives internationally understood protection of property rights. The Land Acquisition Act lays down the procedure by which the landowners receive full compensation for the land and the improvements.
Today I believe that President Mugabe has a greater crisis on his hands than at any time since independence. How is he to close the gap between the expectations of the people who put him into power and the reality of rising inflation, dwindling foreign reserves, balance of payments problems and a budget deficit level which, if exceeded, would put off the IMF and donor countries?
However, the crisis has brought about a meeting of minds in the national economic forum. On the face of it one might be surprised that there is a problem. When one goes about one's daily business in Harare or elsewhere, in a bank for instance, the tellers are black and the bank manager is black, but there are few of them in the board room. The land reform question is not just about the resettlement of landless peasants. It is also about educated and ambitious blacks resenting that they are poorly represented in the corridors of commercial and industrial power, and in commercial farming. Land reform has been left too long; but I say as an optimist-- I am still, at my age, planting trees--that it is not too late.
President Mugabe has to be persuaded that land acquisition is part of a clear strategy for the development of the country as a whole, and not a separate issue. He has to be persuaded that the support of the British Government, the IMF and other foreign governments and donors depends on that. Thus it is necessary that his ministers and their permanent secretaries responsible for land and agriculture are given a properly thought-out programme to achieve resettlement and the continuation of profitable commercial farming, and that they are allowed, without interference, to get on with what they want, and have, to do.
There is a lull at this moment in the rhetoric and the unrest. No one must be allowed to fritter away the goodwill that still remains. This opportunity to plan and carry out comprehensive land reform beneficial to all Zimbabweans, as part of an overall development strategy, must not be allowed to slip away.
I turn to the Supplement to Annex C, an extract from the chairman's statement to the plenary session of the conference on 11th October 1979 concerning the question of land. The chairman spoke as follows:
The reply of the Patriotic Front delegation to the chairman's statement talked about such major issues as land, and reserved its position. However, a few days later, in a further reply on 18th October, the Patriotic Front declared:
The fact is that there are insufficient government funds to meet those stated obligations. The local currency has not been replenished as outside investors keep profits in external currencies. There is heavy reliance on overseas donors, but still no coming forward by the donor countries, particularly the United Kingdom, in the scale and manner described and accepted on 11th and 18th October 1979.
I turn to a Written Answer of 11th December 1997 by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. It mentions a total of about £40 million which the United Kingdom has given to Zimbabwe recently. However, the Answer states clearly and understandably this Government's policy of depending upon the Zimbabwe Government's commitment to the reduction of poverty as the basis for consideration of the possibility of establishing a partnership for further funding. So land reform is still not on the agenda in the way we earlier promised.
Of course, President Mugabe's recent land ownership pronouncements have had a debilitating effect on investor confidence, on capital values and on the economy, and abrupt actions in agriculture particularly can jeopardise 44 per cent. of the country's export earnings. We have heard already how productive Zimbabwe's farmers have been. Capital investment has now, I believe, stopped. Next year's fertiliser has not been ordered by many farmers and the consequent effects on long and short term production will be highly negative.
But Zimbabwe has many high value assets, much management expertise and a substantial skilled labour force. Surely the United Kingdom has to be cautious in intervening in another country's domestic affairs. We must not seem to be defending white interests against black interests. I believe we must remember our historic involvement in, and our responsibility for, past injustices by the state and the British people. To be blunt, land ownership moved under duress into white hands.
The International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the other external donor bodies in which we are active members can assist now in safeguarding the value of agricultural production and restoring investor confidence in partnership with government. That must be within the rule of law and with the resumption of democratic principles as an imperative.
Even at this late stage, 18 years on, I suggest that the United Kingdom should pick up its stated and accepted responsibility to act as catalyst and limited guarantor for international funding of Zimbabwe's land redistribution--but on a willing seller/buyer farm development basis.
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