Ben Freeth - Response to Dave Joubert’s Letter

REGARDING COMPENSATION/RESTITUTION FOR ZIMBABWEAN FARMERS

26 March 2014

Dear all

Dave Joubert raises an important debate here.

The whole compensation/restitution deal is critical for the future of Zimbabwe.  While property rights remain so unprotected in Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe will get poorer and her people will get hungrier.  History dictates that that is the case.  Any deal that is to finally be brokered should strive to establish property rights as part of the future of Zimbabwe.  Deals that do not do that will consign Zimbabwe to further poverty and hunger by allowing title deeds to be cancelled - as is the case on the 3.6 million hectares government bought in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Having been involved in international court cases ourselves, it is vital that we realize that international law can and must be applied in sorting out the mess that has been created.  It seems to me that there are some players who are not prepared to go all out to apply international law.   The international valuators and lawyers need to be brought in from outside because they work with and understand international law, and are willing to insist that it is applied.    

Speaking to farmers who have had enough of waiting and have recently decided to go farming in the southern African region, I am amazed at the prices for virgin land without any cleared lands, no electricity points, no barns, no houses, no irrigation pipe lines, no dams, no fences, no roads.  Completely undeveloped bits of land cost a lot of money.  The development of them costs a lot more.  The international companies like Mills Fitchet understand this and are working with regional property values all the time. 

There are some farmers, who like Esau, are prepared to sell their rights to their fully developed properties for a bowl of stew.  That, like in Esau’s case, is their own choice.  Out of desperation they are prepared to accept paltry sums for their lives’ work - and sign away all future rights to them.  It is very sad when this happens.  It means that, as in Esau’s case, they have lost hope and lost perspective. 

More disturbing are those who lure the Esaus into the trap of accepting paltry sums - and take their cut.  If they can get enough people to be Esaus, this is a multi-million dollar business for them – especially when they are taking more than 10 times the accepted international norm as their cut.  Such people make themselves out to be acting in the best interests of everyone, and of the country, but they are not.  They are greedy opportunists who do not consider the future of Zimbabwe or her people.  They are out to get a quick buck by heavily discounting any compensation deal.  What is right and just is not what they are striving for.             

It is vital that we get those that understand and can apply international law and international standardized valuations involved.  Mills Fitchet has already done excellent work in this field in all the various international court cases so far [since the Dutch case], and their presence, I hope, will encourage others to do things properly.

I look forward to their visit to Zimbabwe at the beginning of April and hope to see others at their meetings as well.

Kind regards,

Ben Freeth

E-mail:  freeth@bsatt.com