Mu­gabe threat­ens an­other land grab

Re-elec­tion ploy takes farms from long­time white own­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY FRANK CHIKOWORE

HARARE | Land grabs of white-owned prop­erty have hit Zim­babwe for the sec­ond time as the south­ern African coun­try’s strong­man, 93-year-old Robert Mu­gabe, calls a fa­mil­iar play as he seeks yet an­other term in of­fice.

Rul­ing Zim­babwe since in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in 1980 — the coun­try holds reg­u­lar elec­tions that crit­ics say Mr. Mu­gabe rou­tinely rigs — the pres­i­dent is evict­ing all the white farm­ers re­main­ing in the im­pov­er­ished na­tion and giv­ing their highly pro­duc­tive farms to his sup­port­ers.

“All the white farm­ers re­main­ing on the land must move out to pave way for our youth and or­di­nary Zim­bab­weans who have no ac­cess to land,” Mr. Mu­gabe said at a re­cent rally in Maron­dera, about 50 miles east of the cap­i­tal of Harare. “The land is ours, and it must ben­e­fit our peo­ple. To those who op­pose us, we have said to them, ‘Mind your own busi­ness.’”

It’s not the first time Mr. Mu­gabe has played the land-grab­bing card, which harks back to the tan­gled racial politics that ex­isted be­fore mod­ern Zim­babwe

was es­tab­lished with the end of a mi­nor­ity whiterun govern­ment.

In 2000, Mr. Mu­gabe promised sim­i­lar so-called re­forms to win of­fice against the newly cre­ated op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal party, the Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change, whose lead­ers had long called for kick­ing out the landown­ers whose wealth dates from the coun­try’s colo­nial past.

More than 4,000 white farm­ers — whose land was among the most pros­per­ous and pro­duc­tive in the coun­try — lost their prop­er­ties with­out com­pen­sa­tion at the height of the chaos, ac­cord­ing to the pre­dom­i­nantly white Com­mer­cial Farm­ers Union. A 2002 re­port by Hu­man Rights Watch con­cluded that at least seven farm­ers and dozens of farm­work­ers were killed dur­ing the pro­gram. Only a few hun­dred white planters re­main. Now Mr. Mu­gabe is fac­ing an­other tough elec­tion slated for mid-2018, hav­ing failed to keep his cam­paign pledge in the last elec­tion to cre­ate more than 2.2 mil­lion jobs amid Zim­babwe’s stag­nant econ­omy.

The coun­try’s un­em­ploy­ment rate is 85 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the Zim­babwe Congress of Trade Unions, though the state-run Zim­babwe Sta­tis­ti­cal Agents puts the fig­ure at 11 per­cent.

Western sanc­tions im­posed on Zim­babwe af­ter Mr. Mu­gabe’s first wave of land grabs haven’t helped. But most econ­o­mists blame the 2000 land re­forms for an eco­nomic melt­down that re­sulted in plung­ing ex­ports, a for­eign in­vest­ment slump and hy­per­in­fla­tion in 2007 and 2008.

At the height of the cri­sis, as gro­cery store shelves went bare, Zim­bab­weans were buy­ing ba­sics like bread from neigh­bor­ing South Africa. Prices of other do­mes­tic goods dou­bled or tripled in one day.

Wave of as­saults

Fol­low­ing Mr. Mu­gabe’s call to oust whites off their land, a wave of as­saults tar­geted white-owned prop­er­ties through­out the coun­try.

In June, po­lice and armed youths from Mr. Mu­gabe’s rul­ing Zim­babwe African Na­tional UnionPa­tri­otic Front, or the ZANU-PF, kicked white farmer Robert Smart, 70, off his Les­bury Es­tates, a 1,500-acre corn and to­bacco farm around 200 miles east of Harare, and gave the prop­erty to Trevor Man­hanga, a priest re­port­edly linked to the party.

“I had put 70 hectares of land un­der [corn], and the rest of it was un­der to­bacco,” Mr. Smart said.

The corn crop “is cur­rently be­ing har­vested and sold by the armed peo­ple who are now oc­cu­py­ing my farm. I won­der how I am go­ing to re­pay the loan that I took from the bank.”

Mr. Smart, like many other white farm­ers, has deep roots in the coun­try.

“I was born here in Zim­babwe. My fam­ily was at the farm since 1932. I have known no other place than Les­bury Es­tates,” he said. “My force­ful evic­tion has ren­dered my fam­ily home­less. I have left ma­chin­ery worth sev­eral thou­sands of dol­lars at the farm. I can’t ac­cess the farm any­more as the roads lead­ing to the farm­house have been bar­ri­caded by the armed men.”

Les­bury Es­tates farm­hand Fabian Ban­gura, 44, lost his job, and work­ers have nowhere to go af­ter be­ing evicted from the site.

“We have sought refuge here in the bush,” he said near Les­bury Es­tates. “We sleep in the nearby moun­tains, and we have nowhere to go. Our kids can’t go to school any­more be­cause they would be hun­gry and afraid be­cause of the vi­o­lence that they saw when we were be­ing evicted.”

An­other Les­bury farm­worker, Peter Tandi, 63, said white landown­ers like Mr. Smart were treated un­fairly. “There should be no dif­fer­ence be­tween black and white peo­ple,” said Mr. Tandi. “We are all Zim­bab­weans, and we must be treated equally by au­thor­i­ties.”

In sub­ur­ban Harare, mil­i­tary chiefs and se­nior ZANU-PF of­fi­cials have seized parts of Black­fordby Es­tates, a hor­ti­cul­tural farm that houses one of Zim­babwe’s biggest agri­cul­tural train­ing in­sti­tutes, the Black­fordby Col­lege of Agriculture. Mr. Mu­gabe, who has re­peat­edly called for a “one man, one farm” pol­icy, re­port­edly owns sev­eral farms across the coun­try. Most were ex­pro­pri­ated at the height of land re­forms years ago.

Com­mer­cial Farm­ers Union Pres­i­dent Peter Steyl said his mem­bers were happy to pur­sue an over­haul of the coun­try’s agriculture po­lices if the re­forms were im­ple­mented dif­fer­ently.

“There are vast tracts of land that are not be­ing uti­lized,” said Mr. Steyl. “The Lands Min­istry says there is about 2.4 mil­lion hectares of land that are not be­ing uti­lized coun­try­wide and that land can be put un­der ir­ri­ga­tion and cre­ate more jobs for peo­ple. There is there­fore no need to grab pro­duc­tive farms.”

Re­form vs. fa­voritism

Obert Gutu, a spokesman for the op­po­si­tion Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change, said re­forms should be done sys­tem­at­i­cally to ex­pand the econ­omy in­stead of parcel­ing out land to a co­terie of the pres­i­dent’s friends and po­lit­i­cal al­lies.

“We would like to en­sure the agri­cul­tural sec­tor is de­vel­oped and strength­ened by of­fer­ing se­cu­rity of ten­ure to all re­set­tled farm­ers, as well as mak­ing sure that re­set­tled farm­ers are given ac­cess to ad­vanced train­ing fa­cil­i­ties as well as bank loans to en­able them to pro­duce on a com­mer­cial scale,” said Mr. Gutu.

Zim­bab­wean Lands Min­is­ter Dou­glas Mombeshora ar­gued that au­thor­i­ties were con­duct­ing an au­dit to de­ter­mine the best use for farms and un­tilled land. That au­dit wouldn’t stand in the way of help­ing or­di­nary peo­ple, he added.

“The pres­i­dent and the govern­ment have made it clear that land should be re­pos­sessed from the white mi­nor­ity to the black ma­jor­ity,” he said. “We have no re­grets what­so­ever.”

The pol­icy, as well as other prob­lems in the coun­try, are fu­el­ing the op­po­si­tion.

Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change leader Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai and crit­ics like Mr. Mu­gabe’s for­mer deputy, Joice Mu­juru, are propos­ing a coali­tion that they hope would end Mr. Mu­gabe’s reign. A hero of Zim­babwe’s in­de­pen­dence move­ment, the frail Mr. Mu­gabe is one of the long­est-serv­ing non­royal na­tional lead­ers in the world.

“We need to have a coali­tion of pro­gres­sive minds so that we take the peo­ple out of the eco­nomic cri­sis that they were put into by Mu­gabe’s poor administrative prac­tices,” said Ms. Mu­juru, who was ex­pelled from Mr. Mu­gabe’s govern­ment and the rul­ing party on ac­cu­sa­tions of plot­ting to as­sas­si­nate him. She de­nies the charges.

But ZANU-PF sup­port­ers like Spencer Mackenzie, 38, in­sist Mr. Mu­gabe is only de­fend­ing the na­tion’s in­ter­ests.

“We asked for land, and we got it,” said Mr. Mackenzie. “Now what is left is for the West to re­move sanc­tions so that our peo­ple can start do­ing busi­ness with the out­side world.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

BIT­TER HARVEST: Long­time Zim­bab­wean Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, 93, plots a land grab as part of a re-elec­tion scheme.

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