October 26, 2006

No land for whites, Mutasa declares / New law allows for the eviction of remaining white farmers

State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, who is in charge of resettlement, has ruled out giving back any land to former commercial white farmers, in remarks that sharply contradicted the pronouncements of a fellow minister. Mutasa said that the government would not allocate farms to dispossessed white farmers, 200 of whom had submitted applications to be allocated land. "We are taking land from white people, and then the same white people are applying for land. So which land are they applying for?" Mutasa’s utterances are at variance with those made recently by his subordinate, Flora Buka, the Minister of State for Special Affairs Responsible for Land, Land Reform and Resettlement, who had before told an agricultural conference in South Africa that the government was considering allocating land to former white farmers. "As regards white commercial farmers, there are some who have indicated that they would want to continue farming," Buka said. "Their applications are being considered. If they are willing to stay, that is also going to be considered. Also, the amount of land they have is also going to be considered." Mutasa’s declarations are also inconsistent with the recent actions of his own ministry, which earlier this year invited white farmers to apply for offer letters.

According to the The Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU), which represents the interests of mainly Zimbabwe’s white commercial farmers, between 900 and 1 000 farmers have applied for A2 farms since government embarked on the "fast track" land reform programme in 2000. Zimbabwe defends the land seizures as necessary to correct a historical imbalance that reserved the best land for whites while cramping blacks on poor, sandy soils. But critics blame a large part of the severe food shortages seen over the past six years on the manner of the government’s land redistribution exercise.

In the meantime, Zimbabwe's parliament has also passed a new land law that allows eviction of some of the remaining white farmers. This is the latest chapter in a six-year controversial land-redistribution program. For six years, hundreds of white Zimbabwean farmers have been to court to try to avoid losing their farms, the businesses on their land and their homes. Under a 2005 constitutional amendment, ownership of all white-owned land reverted to the state. However, the government did not have the power to evict farmers from state land they occupied, without lengthy legal battles. Now, under the new law, white farmers have 90 days from the date President Mugabe rubber stamps the law to leave their homes and businesses, without recourse to the courts. However, not all in the ruling Zanu PF administration want the last white farmers to leave. The governor of the central bank, Gideon Gono, has been lending those still on their land money to grow crops. The two vice presidents, Joyce Mujuru and Joseph Msika, have repeatedly said recently that they want productive white farmers to remain. However, Lands Minister Didymus Mutasa said that only he controls what happens to land, and he has made it clear to western diplomats in recent months he wants all white farmers off Zimbabwe's land.

The Zimbabwean government has in the meantime also issued 100 fresh eviction notices on the country's dwindling population of white farmers. Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) chief executive officer Hendrik Olivier said from Harare last night that the targeted farmers faced jail unless they moved off their farms within three months. Zimbabwe has tightened its land seizure laws and once the latest amendments are signed into law by President Robert Mugabe, farmers served with eviction notices will be re-quired to move in seven days instead of 90. "Some farmers had already planted long-term crops like tobacco. They are in distress. They just don't know what do," said Olivier. He also said that the CFU had sent appeals to the government over the latest farm evictions but had received no feedback. (Voa News / The Mail & Guardian, South Africa)

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