Britain wriggles out of land issue.

Author:CHIMUNHU, JOHN
 
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The British government has rejected Zimbabwe's demands for further aid to the land resettlement programme, saying the funds so far committed have been abused.

Mr Tony Lloyd, minister of state in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said that the British-funded land resettlement programme had so far not benefited poor blacks as had been originally intended. "We are willing to help, but only on the basis that land distribution should first of all be geared towards the poor people -- that is towards poverty alleviation," Mr Lloyd told journalists on a recent visit to Harare (7 January).

He was clearly referring to reports of senior government and party officials illegally grabbing farms bought with aid funds for resettlement. Aid to the land programme was suspended in 1995 over allegations of corruption and impropriety in the allocation of acquired land. The UK had by that time spent Z$1.2bn ([pounds]40m).

Mr Lloyd also said his administration no longer feels morally bound to support Zimbabwe's land programme, despite assertions by President Robert Mugabe that the former colonial master had a responsibility to help. "Colonisation is not something that people of my generation in Britain benefited from," he said.

The UK is upset over a recent government decision to nationalise nearly half the land owned by white commercial farmers despite an original agreement to purchase under utilised land on a willing-seller basis. President Robert Mugabe said Britain had a duty to compensate "its white children." "Politically, we must argue that because we didn't get any payments, any compensation (from the original white settlers), we have no duty to compensate any farmer who loses his land," President Mugabe said. "So we adopted the policy that we compensate the farmer for improvements and nothing more.

However the government has come under fire from commercial farmers who have now lodged objections with the Agricultural Ministry. The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) said most of the farmers whose land was earmarked for takeover without payment had objected. "Most of them have title deeds. They bought the land and that's the basis on which people farm," said a union spokesperson.

Full impact

The full impact of the impending nationalisation of farms is still being assessed, but the plan has dealt a severe blow to Zimbabwe's otherwise successful campaign to present itself as an investor-friendly country. Mr Lloyd said that the land grab violated the Investment...

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