Joice Mujuru launches her new political party in Harare. Photo: Aaron Ufumeli/EPA/The Guardian
Ousted former Zimbabwean Vice President Joice Mujuru, 61, has agreed to pay $1.4 million in personal funds to a white farmer whose land her husband took and later died on — a move analysts say will inspire investor confidence in Zimbabwe and demonstrate respect for property rights.
Mujuru was expelled from the ruling Zanu-PF party in 2014 after being accused of plotting to oust President Robert Mugabe, an allegation she denied. She has formed a new political party, Zimbabwe People First (ZimPF).
Under Mugabe’s rule, the Zimbabwe government seized 5,000 farms or title deeds owned by 3,000 white farmers on 7 million hectares. Among them was the farm belonging to Guy-Watson-Smith, one of the biggest tobacco producers in Zimbabwe at the time.
Watson-Smith’s property was given to Mujuru’s husband, Army Gen. Solomon Mujuru, in 2001 as part of Mugabe’s controversial land reform program, aka land grab. Solomon died in a mysterious fire at the farm in 2011.
Mujuru met recently with Watson-Smith in London, where she agreed to pay back $1.4 million that Watson-Smith lost. This includes crops he’d been growing at the time his land was seized, plus compensation for animals and equipment. She said she could not return the land because it was now owned by the state, BBC reported.
Mujuru also promised to pay Watson-Smith’s legal fees and interest on the compensation.
After Watson-Smith was evicted, Solomon sold his tobacco crops in March 2002 for more than $700,000, according to New Zimbabwe.
Solomon told friends and associates that he believed his ancestors came from the area where the the Watson-Smith farm was located, in the Beatrice district of Mashonaland East, before whites arrived more than 100 years ago.
Solomon fought against white minority rule in Rhodesia, but he believed in property rights in independent Zimbabwe, New Zimbabwe reported. He bought two farms near Shamva — both taken during the land grab — and paid off bank loans on both of them. Later he bought a farm in Ruwa, Mujuru said.
Mujuru insisted that she did not invade Watson-Smith’s farm, originally named Alamein but also known as Ruzambo. The farm was taken by her husband, Solomon, she said last week during an interview on the Hot Seat program in London, New Zimbabwe reported.
However she conceded that it was “not fair” and said she has been looking for
the evicted farmer. “I wanted to give him what is due to him,” she said. “I am a reputable businessperson. I am a chicken farmer … I am ready to work and pay him.”
Political analysts say Mujuru’s move to compensate the former owner of her Ruzambu farm is a positive move that inspires investor confidence and shows respect for property rights, according to a NewsDay report.
Her decision will likely attract support locally and internationally for her political party but it will infuriate Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party.
“Her decision aligns her actions with the party position. She wants to set things right within the parameters of the law and lead by example,” said political analyst Eldred Masunungure. “However, she will be condemned heartily by Zanu PF supporters who will say she was never one of them.”
Economist Vince Musewe said Mujuru is putting the spotlight on the issue of compensation. “Zanu PF will, however, react very negatively to that because many of them took farms, which they can’t afford to compensate owners personally as she has done.”
Zanu-PF will do its best to discredit Mujuru and cast her as a traitor for reaching out to dispossessed white commercial farmers, said researcher and political analyst Dewa Mavhinga.
Others diminish the importance of Mujuru’s action.
“This is nothing beyond political posturing,” said Reward Mushayabasa, political analyst and former head of Harare Polytechnic’s mass communications department. “People should not be fooled by Mujuru’s gesture. Mujuru was a member of Zanu PF for almost her entire life and she now wants to rebrand herself as the acceptable face of Zanu PF.”
Mushayabasa challenged Mujuru to “pay back all she acquired corruptly when she was still part of the Zanu PF government,” News Day reported.
After leaving Zimbabwe, Watson-Smith started a new life near Nice, France, and developed a successful real estate business. He and Mujuru met at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair, where Mujuru was staying. She was in the U.K. at the invitation of the Royal Society of International Affairs at Chatham House, London, to drum up support for her Zimbabwe People First political party.
This meeting was an important step to establishing precedent and to re-establish rule of law and accountability in Zimbabwe since the land invasions, Mujuru said, according to New Zimbabwe.
“The meeting is to try and solve this issue amicably,” she said. “I can’t hide my excitement because I have been longing to talk to Watson about this land issue … I must now do my uttermost best to put the land to good use.”
Reconciliation shouldn’t just be rhetorical, Mujuru said. “I have a party
that has a policy on practical reconciliation and we must show it.”
Over the weekend, Mujuru spoke to supporters in the U.K, aligning herself with Morgan Tsvangirai, head Zimbabwe’s leading opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).