Mr Tendai Biti

HARARE – In a surprise major climbdown after 20 years, MDC-Alliance has acknowledged the Land Reform Programme and its importance and now wants Government to use a constitutional amendment to return farms falling under Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPAS) taken over during the agrarian reforms.

Government recently gazetted a Statutory Instrument that seeks to return farms falling under BIPPAs to their original owners or pay them full compensation that includes land and improvements — something that has been interpreted by MDC-A as a reversal of the Land Reform Programme.

In their submissions during a question and answer session on Wednesday, MDC-A lawmakers led by their vice president, Mr Tendai Biti, said Government should have a re-look on the Statutory Instrument.

Mr Biti said the land issue was so important that any variation should not be implemented by a Statutory Instrument, but though an amendment of the Constitution.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said he was excited by the shift in stance by MDC-A which in the past had been vilifying land reform, which sought to correct historical land imbalances.

“Madam Speaker, I am pleased because the members agree on one point that land should be given to black people across the political divide. This is an important issue because in the past we were not talking in one accord,” said Minister Ziyambi.

He said Mr Biti’s remarks were premature in that the Parliamentary Legal Committee will scrutinise the Statutory Instrument to establish if it was consistent with the Constitution.

Minister Ziyambi said in terms of the Constitution, indigenous people and owners of farms covered under a BIPPA were entitled to full compensation, something that had not been implemented.

“We have not been doing that. We have black people who lost their farms through the land reform programme, and there was no compensation. This particular SI is trying to give effect or to kick-start the process of having that compensation set in motion,” he said.

Minister Ziyambi said farms protected by BIPPAs were also covered in the Constitution and the process underway was a recognition of that.

“What has been happening is that because it is in our Constitution, where we were taken to arbitration we have lost dismally. So the Statutory Instrument is trying to say that where the land is lying idle, the best possible thing is to give them the land because it is protected under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) but where it is not possible, we then discuss the possibility of compensating for both the land and the improvements. That is the net effect of that Statutory Instrument,” said Minister Ziyambi.

Earlier on, Mr Biti had indicated that the land issue was so important that any changes should be done through amendment to the Constitution to allow legislators and members of the public to express their views.

“Madam Speaker, Government has the right to distribute land to anyone using an offer letter — this has been done using the 99-year leases and there is no need for any other law. Government published a new SI62 last Friday which states that those white farmers who had their land repossessed are being given back the land. This is a reversal of the Land Reform Programme, so it must be clear whether there is change in Government policy regarding the repossessing of land,” said Mr Biti.

Mutare Central MP Mr Innocent Gonese and Norton MP Mr Temba Mliswa supported Mr Biti. – Herald