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‘Zim land ‘reform’ now pits rich against poor’

12th November 2003

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The 'fast track' land grab and resettlement the Zimbabwean government claims to have completed 'successfully' has been described as one huge national scandal.

"What the world is hearing or reading differs greatly from the reality on the ground, especially when it comes to who benefited from the programme.

No Zimbabwean is against land redistribution, but the manner in which it has been handled is not right," said a retired accountant, who only gives his name as Nyani.

His comment comes amid reports of fresh confusion and clashes on the farms, where senior government officials and politicians from the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) are displacing peasants and ex-combatants of Zimbabwe's liberation war resettled during the controversial exercise.

Three years ago it was the poor blacks against whites in the fight for farms.

The tables have now turned, as the rich blacks have descended on the peasants.

The former guerrillas, who led the initial invasions in 2000, are threatening retaliation.

Endy Mhlanga, secretary general of Zimbabwe Liberation War Veterans' Association, says, "Comrades (ex-combatants) are now being moved off the land they seized, to make way for some civilians, who, at that time, distanced themselves from the jambanja (the violent seizure of the land)".

His group is inviting all former guerrillas who have been displaced from their new land to report to the association.

"We are prepared to fight. As an association, we are in the same line with the party (Zanu-PF) and the government.

"We have discovered a lot of abnormalities in the scheme. We respect president (Robert Mugabe) and cannot reveal the information until we brief him. He can later tell whoever else he wants... We just don't want to wash our dirty linen in public".

Mhlanga says some incidents are already public knowledge, like the eviction of five disabled ex-combatants from a farm in Beatrice, near the capital, Harare. The property has been taken over by the wife of a late Member of Parliament.

Three months ago police set ablaze 1 000 homes during an early morning raid at Windcrest Farm in the south-eastern region of Masvingo, ordering the original invaders to return to their former communal homes and make way for a ministry of foreign affairs official. The families were allotted the plots in 2001 under the 'fast track' land resettlement programme.

Hundreds of other settlers have a pending case with the authorities over "Little England Farm" in the western Zvimba District, home of President Mugabe.

His late nephew's wife and about 70 other persons have been selected to take over the 6 000 ha.

The evicted families have been resisting the move.

"These people and the war veterans were used to grab the farms.

Now they are being forced to join hundreds of stranded former farm workers who lost their jobs and homes in the land invasions," says a traditional leader in the district.

The elder, who prefers anonymity for fear of reprisal, says the land issue is "a headache. There are too many scandals involving very senior (Zanu-PF) party and government officials. Some of them are even selling the farms to aspiring settlers. They are demanding bribes".

About a million farm workers lost their jobs when Mugabe's government seized land from 4 500 white farmers between 2000 and 2002, according to human rights groups.

Multiple farm ownership is another problem bedevilling the controversial land-reform programme.

Some cabinet ministers have properties registered in the names of their children.

Mugabe ordered senior officials in July who had seized more than one farms to surrender all and remain with one, under his 'One Man One Farm Policy'.

However, Zanu-PF National Chairman John Nkomo is quoted as saying that some 60 000 ha of land have been returned.

But he neither mentions names nor any action likely to be taken against those who returned the farms.

Bright Garikai Mombeshora, a commentator on agricultural issues, says while the disturbances on the farms continue, they are also laying the foundation for more difficulties ahead if the state does not come up with clear guidelines.

"The fundamental problem regarding the agricultural sector at the moment is the direction the government wants to take.

It doesn't seem to have a clear policy as to how it wants it to develop," he says.

Mombeshora says there was no need to destroy an already-established infrastructure by white farmers to institute a land-reform programme.

The authorities should have employed simple approaches like collecting the names and number of people interested in land and the size of areas needed to cater for them, without removing existing producers.

He says financial institutions that were dealing with the commercial farming sector before the invasions also need clarity on who will settle the debts and other transactions left behind by the evicted white farmers.

Ex-combatants in 2000 reportedly defied orders by Vice-President Joseph Msika, the then Interior Minister John Nkomo and the Minister of Agriculture Joseph Made not to seize farms.

Mugabe was out of the country when the noise began.

On his return he quickly declared the illegal occupations as a "demonstration" against unfair distribution of land, and barred forcible eviction of the invaders, plunging the country into chaos and sparking shortages of food, fuel and other essential commodities.

But Mugabe needed support from war veterans and rural masses ahead of last year's presidential poll.

The government says persistent drought has frustrated production, especially of crops, in parts of the country.

It does not explain the reduction in irrigation activities on the seized farms, where there are reports of massive looting and vandalizing of equipment, either by former farm workers or the new settlers.

The looted equipment is reportedly resold cheaply.

A report by a team of retired senior civil servants, Mugabe appointed this year to review the resettlement exercise, says whites now hold three percent of the country's arable land.

Before the invasion, they used to own 30 percent, or 11 million hectares.

While the state claims to have resettled 300,000 families, the study shows only 127 200 benefited from the exercise.

Many of the farmers who fled their properties with their workers have either crossed into neighbouring Zambia or Mozambique.

Others are renting houses in the cities, awaiting the outcome of petitions against their evictions.

Some Zanu-PF officials say they expect Mugabe, in office since independence from Britain in 1980, to announce his retirement plans next month at the party's annual conference.

The civil servants report, they say, supports Mugabe's claim of successfully returning land to its rightful owners, one of the major conditions he set before he steps down. – Sapa.
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