Zanu-PF says the war veterans' move on to land owned by Tongaat Hulett is illegal, but the vets claim they were promised land in return for votes.
War veterans in Zimbabwe have moved on to land owned by South African company Tongaat Hulett, saying the company has failed to honour its promise to give parts of the estate to ordinary Zimbabweans.
Despite condemnation by the Zimbabwe government and Zanu-PF officials, the war veterans bussed from different districts of Masvingo have vowed to stay put on the property until Tongaat Hulett – Zimbabwe's only sugar milling company – cedes land to them to enable them to farm sugar cane. They maintain that Zanu-PF pledged to give its supporters land in return for votes in last year's election.
"We just want to get land and, after all, our party, Zanu-PF, during the run-up to last year's elections, promised us sugar cane plots and other farms if we successfully campaigned for President Robert Mugabe," said Ezra Charinda, a spokesperson for war veterans in Chiredzi.
"Now that the president has won, we are just asking for something that is on the table already. We also want the sugar company to comply with the country's indigenisation laws, and not to cling to huge pieces of land when ordinary people, particularly war veterans, are landless."
Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe chief executive Sydney Mutsambiwa refused to comment on the developments this week.
South African international relations department spokesperson Clayson Monyela said he had not been aware of the land invasion.
"Someone would have to report it to us," he said this week. "If there is a land invasion, we would have to engage with the authorities there to find out what they are doing about it. But Zimbabwe is a sovereign country. If you invade someone's private land, the laws of the land must deal with you accordingly. So, in this case the laws of Zimbabwe [apply] … but we will get in touch with the authorities."
He said the department will ask the Zimbabwean High Commission to "prioritise the matter".
Zimbabwe Lands and Rural Resettlement Minister Douglas Mombeshora said he was also not aware of the developments at the sugar-milling giant.
Zanu-PF's provincial chairperson for Masvingo, retired brigadier general Callisto Gwanetsa, confirmed the farm seizures but condemned the move, arguing that it was counterproductive.
Call to withdraw
"I am calling all the comrades who have invaded those farms to immediately withdraw because we are saying no to any more farm invasions. These invasions were not sanctioned by the party," he said.
"The company has been with us as government during these trying times of economic sanctions, and we are not going to smile over the illegal takeover of those farms."
The Masvingo political leadership previously wrote a letter to the government, seeking to take over 10 000 hectares of land from Tongaat Hulett. It was authored by Masvingo provincial affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, but the government is yet to respond to it.
"We wrote a letter to the government asking for additional land from the company, and we never instigated anyone to invade part of the company's farms," said Bhasikiti.
The country's indigenisation laws require that all foreign-owned companies cede 51% of their shares to locals.
Experts in the sugar industry have warned that the move to disrupt operations at Tongaat Hulett will further cripple the country's ailing economy. – Additional reporting by Kwanele Sosibo