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Lord Acton: My Lords, at the outset, I must say that the farm of a Zimbabwean nephew of mine has been listed for compulsory acquisition and currently he awaits the result of his appeal. I was brought up on a Southern Rhodesian farm and after independence I worked for the new government from 1981 to 1985. I speak tonight not so much as an uncle, but as one who has an enormous affection for Zimbabwe and for all its people, black and white.
On 28th November 1997, the Zimbabwe Government listed 1,503 commercial farms, amounting to some 5 million hectares, for compulsory acquisition. Compensation would be paid only for improvements and not for the land itself, as the noble Lord,
Since the listing, in Zimbabwe there has been a deep plunge in confidence in the Zimbabwe dollar and stock market. The Commercial Farmers' Union, which represents 4,000 mainly white, large-scale farmers, has calculated that there will be steep declines in farm production and exports if the land is taken. Moreover, the CFU stresses that 147,000 jobs are at risk. In a country where the average family is 6.4 people, nearly 1 million black people are directly threatened. Small wonder that the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers' Union of Zimbabwe has expressed serious concern.
Moreover, 200 of the 1,503 farmers who were listed are members of the Indigenous Commercial Farmers' Union, representing small and large-scale black commercial farmers. Thus, huge numbers of black people could be affected as well as the core white landowners.
Two shafts of light shone on to that bleak picture last week. The CFU presented to ministers a paper entitled Land Reform Programme, brimming with ideas of how it could help the government. I mention some of its suggestions. The CFU believes that a maximum of 1.5 million hectares of commercial farmland could be identified for settling the landless. It plans capital structures for war veterans on commercial and communal lands. The CFU believes that it could help black would-be commercial farmers by arranging concessionary loans from banks and also by offering advice and training. Furthermore, the CFU stresses that it can be of great help to the government in attracting international donor support.
The central suggestion of the CFU is the preparation of an overall land reform plan by the government, together with the CFU, the African Farmers' Union, which represents subsistence farmers, the indigenous Commercial Farmers' Union, which I have mentioned, donor agencies and others. The ideas cover seven pages and the minister of agriculture, Mr. Kangai, was fully briefed on them last week. The CFU tells me that he is supportive of its suggestions. So much for the first shaft of light.
The second shaft of light shone last Thursday, 22nd January, when President Mugabe spoke at a national economic consultative forum. He said that farmers, banks and donors should all be involved in land acquisition and the land reform programme. The mention of donors is of special interest for that is the first time President Mugabe has spoken of them being involved directly.
That statement brings to mind a meeting on 7th January of this year in Brussels between President Mugabe and the European Development Commissioner, Professor Pinheiro. At that meeting, the Commissioner suggested a donor conference where the Government of Zimbabwe and all the "stakeholders" concerned, including the donor community, could discuss the implementation of land reform. The European Union proposal of a donors' conference is only three weeks
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Vivian for enabling us to discuss this important issue. From 1960 onwards, I visited Zimbabwe where I have friends and connections among the farmers who have farmed the land there for three generations. They have stayed there through good times and bad. They are Zimbabwe citizens wholly committed to their country.
I was brought up in Tanganyika, then a mandated territory, and later served as a diplomat both in the Congo before and after independence and in Zambia from 1964 to 1967, before and after Ian Smith declared UDI. At that time I had friends in both ZANU, President Mugabe's party, and ZAPU. Indeed, I was denounced on Salisbury Radio as a friend of terrorists and not infrequently threatened. Therefore, I am not ill-placed to understand and feel concerned for both white and black citizens of Zimbabwe, as well as for the stability of Southern Africa as a whole.
This is a delicate moment in the discussions which must be taking place behind the scenes between the farmers' union and Zimbabwean ministers. I believe that there is good will on both sides at the working level and a real wish to find a solution to a political problem which seems to have got out of control.
It was reassuring to read in the press last week that during the negotiations with the European Union and the World Bank, the Zimbabwe finance minister gave a written undertaking, said to be cleared by the president, that land reform would be carried out,
However, the IMF, which has not yet agreed to a loan, proved to be right in making a condition of the first tranche that President Mugabe should make a public statement in Zimbabwe that his government would not only carry out land reform transparently but would pay for the land as well as for the improvements made by white farmers. It would also be essential for him publicly to confirm his commitment to the rule of law and thus allow appeals to the courts, which he has hitherto refused to permit.
Unfortunately, President Mugabe's most recent public statement last week was that he had no intention of abandoning his stated policy of seizing farms without compensation and that he will not turn back on the issue of land sequestration. That can only create major problems not only in relation to his hopes of support from the EU, the World Bank and the IMF, whose normal practice it is the world over to set conditions for economic policy once it is dispensing international
President Mugabe showed both magnanimity and statesmanship in his relations with the former Ministers of the Smith regime in the aftermath of independence. He has over many years retained a particular ideological respect for the Chinese. He is an African leader of standing and most of them are, like the Chinese, pragmatic and practical in their approach to political problems.
Zimbabwe has until recently been a successful country. What happens there has repercussions for all its neighbours. The president must be well aware that in a world where everything financial interlocks, no man and no country is an island. He will know that his people look to him to show wisdom, tense though the situation has become. He recently bowed to the party congress on another issue. He made a decision last week to stand by his original intention on the farms. Because he is the president and that was a presidential decision, he and he alone can change his mind and be seen to do so. It takes a big man to do that.
His Ministers, speaking with his sanction to the EU, promised that the process of land reform would not affect agricultural production or workers' security. That needs to be said publicly, together with the statement that the IMF asked for. It is indispensable to restore the morale not just of the farmers, the investors, the banks, tourism and all the other sectors of the country's economy upon which economic stability and viability depend, but above all of the black citizens of Zimbabwe. An unstable economy and widespread unemployment, not only in the agricultural sector, are something that no responsible head of state could contemplate, and must be far from President Mugabe's true intentions.
It is in his power to be seen to be both wise and strong enough to afford to change his mind, not only for the good of Zimbabwe but in the interests of the whole of southern Africa. Economic collapse and general unemployment will have serious consequences for Zimbabwe's neighbours and could destabilise the whole area, and especially South Africa at a critical time. The president can change all this and create confidence in the future at a stroke by saying that he now abandons the policy of sequestration in favour of a plan of land reform to be worked out with the farmers on the lines suggested by the IMF, which would then be coupled with a major sustainable development programme of roads, dams, better public transport and schools, and above all training for young African farmers. Such a programme is already being financed by the commercial farmers' union and many farmers already do this individually. The farmers have constructive ideas and the will to make them work once they have a guarantee of stability.
There are many Zimbabwean citizens, white and black, who are committed to their country and want to make things work. Of course there is a recognised need for land reform, but not at the terrible cost of the present plans for arbitrary confiscation and the mass unemployment which must follow, to say nothing of the waste of farms which will turn merely into land. Zimbabwe is potentially a hugely successful country. This is the president's chance to be remembered as the man strong enough to change his mind and wise enough to harness the good will of both white and black. The decision is his. It could mean life not death for his country and, politically speaking, for him too.
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