Zimbabwe will prosecute 140 white landowners on charges of failing to vacate their farms under the country’s controversial 2000 land reform program, state media reported on Sunday.
“A total of 140 farmers are to be prosecuted for failing to vacate farms after being issued with eviction notices,” the Sunday Mail said, citing a report presented at the ruling ZANU-PF party’s national conference.
The government ordered the white owners to leave by Sept. 30 to make way for resettlement by landless blacks, under often-violent land reforms that critics blame for causing chronic food shortages in this onetime regional breadbasket.
The report did not specify what charges the farmers would face but law experts said it could be trespassing for failing to comply with the government ultimatum.
The report to the just-finished conference said another 278 farms owned by 13 countries would be spared from government seizure and prosecution under a Bilateral Investment Protection Agreements (BIPAs). This provision involves more than 522,000 hectares (1.3 million acres) owned by Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the US, it said.
The government also recommended that 341 white farmers be allowed to continue farming across the country, and is drafting documents to give them a 99-year security of tenure on their properties “as the land reform program nears conclusion,” the report said.
A further 97 white farmers will be allowed to continue running conservancies or private game parks in six provinces, it said.
This brings to 438 the number of white farmers allowed to retain their land out of 6,708 operating in Zimbabwe before the reforms were launched eight years ago, the Sunday Mail said.
A total 1,530 new black farmers have received land offer letters from the government as of September 30 and the figure is expected to rise 1,800 by the end of this week, it added.
Under Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s program, at least 4,000 properties formerly run by white farmers have been seized for redistribution to blacks, the majority of whom lacked the skills and means to farm. The chaotic program is held largely responsible for the country’s economic crisis, which has saddled Zimbabwe with the world’s highest inflation rate and left nearly half the population in need of aid.