Thursday, 9 June 2011

Land-grabs and compensation

A SADC tribunal in 2008 found that the land-redistribution/land-grabs/land-reform process in Zimbabwe had been "racist and illegal, and that farmers ought to have been compensated for their farms". The tribunal has since been indefinitely suspended - a move taken by many as (worrying) a sign of the lack of political will to protect private property in Southern Africa. Three Zimbabwean farmers who were summarily dispossessed of their land, however, appear to be having better luck in South Africa where a high court recently dismissed an appeal from the Zim government against a ruling that they could sell of the Zimbabwean government property in South Africa for compensation. One of the farmers was beaten when his farm was invaded and died in April 2011. 

Land rights are always a political issue in Africa. Some argue that past injustices justify current seizure of land without compensation. Some suggest that the small-holder farmers who have replaced successful commercial farming operations in Zimbabwe are doing just fine. Commercial farmers (of all races) get jittery whenever someone mentions land reform. The delicate balance, between ensuring some sort of vaguely equitable distribution of the productive asset which land will remain as long as agriculture is a key industry in Africa (which it is likely to be for a very, very long time) and the need for private property rights to be somewhat secure in order for commercial agriculture - on any scale - to be a viable business proposition remains a challenge for many countries.

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