HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe should press on with transparent and fair land reform, Britain said on Friday, as Harare’s new leaders look to overhaul policies that evicted thousands of white farmers without compensation.
Under former president Robert Mugabe, authorities carried out often violent seizures of white-owned farms in a bid to address what they called injustices during British colonial rule.
But new President Emmerson Mnangagwa - keen to boost the economy and mend ties with countries that imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe - has said he wants to end discrimination between black and white farmers and is working to compensate those who lost their properties.
Britain’s Minister of State for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, said she discussed the land issue with Mnangagwa in Harare on Friday.
“Obviously the UK government very much welcomes the statements that have been made about land reform by the government of Zimbabwe and we support a transparent and fair and mediated process around that,” Baldwin told reporters.
“It’s also something which is very important as a signal to international investors and so it’s important and we welcome the fact that the president has made a commitment in terms of continuing with that process.”
Zimbabwe sees mending relations with former colonial ruler Britain as a critical step towards re-establishing ties with the West and international financial institutions.
Under Mugabe, the government argued that it would only pay for buildings and equipment on farms but not the land, which it said had been expropriated from locals during the colonial era.
Mugabe, who was forced to step down after a de facto military coup in November, argued that Britain should pay compensation for the land because the farmers were its “kith and kin”.
When asked whether Britain would help pay the farmers, Baldwin said she welcomed “the statements that the president has made on that front”. She did not elaborate.
Land ownership is a highly sensitive topic in Zimbabwe. Colonialists seized some of the best agricultural land and much of it remained in the hands of white farmers after independence in 1980, while many blacks were landless.
The government has said it will issue 99-year leases to white farmers, according to a government circular.
Earlier this month a government document showed that Zimbabwe was considering establishing a special tribunal to determine the value of compensation and how to pay it to white farmers who have lost land since 2000.
Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Andrew Heavens