The government of Zimbabwe has extended an olive branch to white farmers who were expelled from the country in 2000, in an attempt to repair some of the economic damage caused by severe food shortages.

President Robert Mugabe encouraged landless black peasants to invade commercial farms back in February 2000, labelling white farmers as “thieves who had deprived 12m black Zimbabweans of their birthrights”.

But now that the economy has been adversely affected, the government has invited dispossessed white farmers to take back farms from the state under 99-year leases.

According to Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmer’s Union (CFU), so far there have been more than 200 applications.

Since 2000, the Mugabe government has taken over 4000 white-owned farms in often violent seizures.

Some of the land was redistributed to poor black supporters of the government, but many farms went to cabinet ministers, army officers, judges and others with ties to the Zanu-PF party.

The shortages of seeds and fertiliser, and lack of expertise, made President Mugabe admit last year that only 40% of the seized land was under cultivation.

As a result, Zimbabwe has suffered widespread food shortages and has been dependent upon international food aid for four consecutive years.

The economy has contracted by 40%, inflation has passed 1000% and unemployment is running at 80%.

Information minister, Tichaona Jokonya, said recently that significant numbers of long-term leases would be issued before summer planting begins in August and no new farms would be given to poor blacks.

“What the government is saying is:

Those who genuinely want land, whether white or black, let them come forward,” Mr Jokonya said, speaking from his own farm, south of Harare.

fwnews@rbi.co.uk