May 23, 2002

Illegal settlers stay put on farms

The Zimbabwean government announced on Thursday, May 16 to evict twelve thousand black families from undesignated land. But so far, no illegal settlers had been removed from farms seized in Matabeleland, the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) said on May 22.

The government had assured it was forcibly removing those who occupied farms after March 31 2001, but CFU Matabeleland regional representative Ben Zeitsman said: "The invaders are still there. We have not received word of them being removed in Matabeleland. We are keeping our eyes and ears open to see and hear if they are being removed. So far, there’s no change in the entire region."

The government on May 16 ordered all provincial land committees to remove illegal occupants of farms seized after the March 31 2001 deadline to allow farmers to carry out their agricultural activities unhindered. More than 12 000 illegal settlers are said to have been removed from farms in Masvingo in the past two weeks, although other local media reports have suggested that some of the invaders have defied the order.

Farmers in Matabeleland estimated that about 12 000 illegal settlers were camped on their properties, although they stressed that they were still to do a proper survey on the number of the invaders. They said no illegal settler had been removed from commercial farms, including those owned by blacks who the government says it wants to empower through its land reforms.

Some invaders are insisting that the government should first identify alternative properties before sending the police to drive them out of the land they have occupied. The invaders warn of serious clashes with law enforcement agents if they are hurriedly thrown out of the farms. The government has said all those being removed from unlisted farms will be given alternative farms for resettlement.

The timing of the announcement of the eviction has raised eyebrows among some political analysts who suggested that the apparent "softening" could have been a political strategy to appease foreign ministers of the Commonwealth Action Group meeting in Botswana on Thursday, May 16. Zimbabwe, suspended from the Commonwealth in the wake of controversial elections, was expected to be on the agenda.

Meanwhile, it was told that Zimbabwe’s ruling elite, including the two vice presidents and relatives of President Robert Mugabe, has taken over most of the top commercial farms under the government’s fast-track land reforms. A list compiled from the government’s own advertisements in the state media and reports from commercial farmers shows that among those who have benefited from the model A2 scheme meant to create the new commercial farmer are Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, army commander Constantine Chiwenga, director of prisons Paradzayi Zimondi and even broadcaster Reuben Barwe. Justice Chidyausiku and three others will share the 895-hectare Estees Park farm in Mazowe/Concession which sources this week said was already being pegged and demarcated into four parts.

Barwe, chief correspondent of state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), was given the 830-ha Sunnyside Farm in Norton.

Vice President Joseph Msika has been allocated part of Umguza Block in Nyamandhlovu that belongs to the state’s Cold Storage Company while his counterpart Simon Muzenda is said to have taken over Chindito and Endama farms in Gutu.

Muzenda however is understood to be in "cordial negotiations" with the farmers to compensate them for their assets reputed to be worth more than $15 million.

Mugabe’s sister —ZANU PF legislator Sabina Mugabe — plus his brother-in-law Reward Marufu have also benefited from the model A2 resettlement scheme. Zvimba Member of Parliament Sabina Mugabe is the owner of Gowrie Farm in Norton while Marufu, a brother to First Lady Grace Mugabe, has been given Leopard Vlei in Glendale, Mashonaland Central.

Others who have also been allocated land on some of the country’s top farms include Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri, his deputy Godwin Matanga and police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena; war veterans’ leaders Joseph Chinotimba, Mike Moyo, Andy Mhlanga and Patrick Nyaruwata, and governors Obert Mpofu, Peter Chanetsa and Josaya Hungwe.

Several ministers in Mugabe’s Cabinet including Samuel Mumbengegwi, Sydney Sekeramayi, Herbert Murerwa, Swithun Mombeshora, Elliot Manyika and Nicholas Goche have also been accorded priority in the allocation of the new farms. Security Minister Goche is listed as the new owner of Ceres in Mashonaland Central; Education’s Mumbengegwi got Irvine Farm in Gutu; Mombeshora (Ormeston, Lions’ Den); Sekeramayi (Maganga Estate, Marondera); Murerwa (Rise Holm, Arcturus) and Manyika (Duiker Flats in Mashonaland Central). Among those who have benefited from the fast-track exercise criticised internationally for lack of transparency is television broadcaster Supa Mandiwanzira, ZBC’s Admire Taderera and scores of former ZANU PF legislators, senior army officers, ministers’ wives and their relatives, permanent secretaries, diplomats and business people sympathetic to ZANU PF. Western nations have refused to back Mugabe’s land reforms because they allege the land redistribution exercise is only benefiting supporters of the veteran Zimbabwean leader.

The reforms have been blamed for triggering wanton violence on farms by veterans of the country’s 1970s war of independence and land-hungry supporters of the governing party, as well severe food shortages which have left millions of Zimbabweans threatened with starvation.

About 250 white commercial farmers out of about 4 500 have fled Zimbabwe since the violent seizures, which have largely gone unpunished, began in earnest in February 2000.

Another 250 have been chased off the farms since the March presidential election despite a government directive that they be allowed 90 days to vacate properties listed for resettlement.

A spokesman for the Commercial Farmers’ Union this week said the union supported the model A2 land reforms as long as they were legal and above board. (THE FINANCIAL GAZETTE, IRIN)


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