Reuters | 12 October 2009
By Muchena Zigomo
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s biggest farmers union Agri SA Monday urged the country’s government to ensure a planned investment protection agreement with Zimbabwe includes a clause to protect land and property rights.
South Africa and Zimbabwe have for several years been in talks over a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement that would pave way for South African investment in Zimbabwe and, among other things, protect the properties of South African nationals in the country’s northern neighbour.
However, the conclusion of the agreement, which was expected to have been signed earlier this year, has apparently been stalled by Zimbabwe’s demand to have land omitted from the pact.
“Agri SA wishes to urge the South African government not to succumb to Zimbabwe’s demands to exclude land from the proposed bilateral investment agreement between the two governments,” the union said in a statement.
It said South Africa’s response to the demands “will also send an important signal to local land owners regarding the South African government’s willingness to respect and protect their interests (in South Africa) and in (a) regional context.”
South Africa’s government plans to resubmit a draft law to parliament that would make it easier for the state to forcibly seize land if negotiations to buy it from white farmers fail.
But farmers’ groupings say the law would be unconstitutional and have called for more protection for their properties.
Thousands of white farmers have fled Zimbabwe since 2000, when President Robert Mugabe’s government started often violent seizures of land from whites to give to blacks under a land reform program.
Critics say the land reforms were responsible for plunging farm output and accelerated the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy, whose recovery is the biggest challenge for a new inclusive government formed by Mugabe and rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
Agri SA said several South African farmers and business people had had their farming assets in Zimbabwe confiscated by the government without compensation.
“This should first be rectified before investment can be considered,” Agri SA said.
Since the formation of the unity government, Zimbabwe has been on a drive to attract foreign investment to key sectors in a bid to boost its economy.
While Agri SA has been leading a push for South African farmers to invest and farm in a number of other countries across Africa, including the Republic of Congo, Libya and Zambia, the union has urged its members to stay away from countries where South Africa has no investment protection agreements.
Agriculture minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has also said the government will not assist any South African farmers going into countries where they have no protection.(Editing by Jon Hemming)