Zimbabwe’s government has announced that white farmers whose land was seized under former President Robert Mugabe are to be compensated from a pot of around £2.6billion – or, in some cases, apply to have their old farms returned.

Mr Mugabe’s land reforms, launched in 2000, saw parcels of land seized from white farmers under laws which sought to redress colonial-era land grabs, but which coincided with the country’s economic decline.

The issue still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe, where the number of white farmers dropped to about 200 from 4500 when land reforms began. Opponents regard the reforms as an own goal that exiled agricultural expertise and left the country struggling to feed itself, but supporters still insist that it was right to return the land to Black people.

Mugabe, who died in September 2019, had promised the land reforms would not be reversed. Current president Emmerson Mnangagwa agreed that the land reform would not be reversed, but framed the money as compensation for the improvements that the farm owners had made to the land, and said that he hoped it would help mend relations with the West.

Some foreign white farmers protected by treaties between their governments and Zimbabwe will be able apply for their land back, if possible.

“Where the situation presently obtaining on the ground makes it impractical to restore land in this category to its former owners, government will offer the former farm owners alternative land elsewhere as restitution where such land is available,” said the Zimbabwean government.

It also said that other white farmers, whose land had been earmarked for acquisition by the government but who were still on the properties, can now apply to lease the land for 99 years.