Africa

War veterans eye share of Tongaat Hulett plantation

Regerai Pepukai in Chiredzi

Former freedom fighters in Zimbabwe demand their reward in the form of sugarcane plots.

Sweet talk: War veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda said that handing out plots to former fighters would be welcomed. (Jekesai Njikizana/AFP)

After successfully campaigning for President Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF, resulting in a controversial victory during last year's harmonised elections, it is now payback time as former freedom fighters demand their reward in the form of sugarcane plots.

The war veterans in Chiredzi, home to the country's sugar plantations, have asked government to give them a bigger share of the 10 000 hectares that may be expropriated from South African sugar milling giant Tongaat Hulett.

The veterans say they were promised the land during election campaigning last year and have met Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander General Constantine Chiwenga several times, when the issue has been discussed.

War veteran spokesperson Ezra Charinda, who is based in Chiredzi, confirmed having held a series of meetings with the army chief.

Charinda said they were "not demanding but were just asking" for what had been promised to them during the run-up to the July 2013 harmonised elections.

"I am surprised if you say we are demanding because we are not demanding," said Charinda. "This has been on the table and we are just saying let us have what has been on the table," he said.

Former freedom fighters still landless
"Since we are regarded as a reserve force falling under the ministry of defence, we held a series of meetings during the run-up to the polls with army chiefs, including Chiwenga, and this was tabled as one of our benefits if our party and president won the polls," he said.

Charinda said it is concerning that, after 34 years of independence, some former freedom fighters are still landless.

"We have some of our comrades who toiled during the liberation struggle and are still without land. Can't you see that it is unfair," he said.

Chiwenga could not be reached for comment.

Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said he was not aware of such demands by the former freedom fighters.

War veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda said that, although he was not aware of such demands, war veterans must be honoured for supporting the party.

"We have to be thanked"
"As war veterans, we believe we have to be thanked for the good work we do for the party and this might be in the form of land or plots," said Sibanda.

But the demands by the former freedom fighters have come at a time when Power and Energy Development Minister Dzikamai Mavhaire — a senior party member in southeastern Masvingo province, under which Chiredzi falls — has urged transparency in the distribution of land, especially plots for sugar-cane production.

Mavhaire, somewhat contrary to the party's stance, said all Zimbabweans should benefit equally from land distribution and not specific interest groups.

"We have to make sure that this issue of sugar-cane plots is handled in a good manner, where those who already have farms should wait for those who have not benefited to get something," he was quoted as saying in local media.

"It does not make any sense to give sugar-cane plots to those who already have some. If we do that as a party it will be a clear case of corruption," he said.

The government intends to take more than 10 000 hectares of land from Hippo Valley through the Masvingo political leadership, saying that the company under-declared its land in the first round of land acquisitions.

The pledge has to be honoured
The government says Tongaat Hulett pledged to share some land with locals and so it should honour the pledge. Masvingo political leadership, led by Provincial Affairs Minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, has formally approached the government to be given the land.

A response has yet to be made.

War veterans are notorious for the land invasions that started in 2000. These led to the controversial land reforms that critics say then led to the decline in commercial agriculture and incessant food shortages in the country. — CAJ News

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