Farm invasion spat pits SA against Zim

Vusi Mavimbela, South Africa’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, has attacked President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF over its continued invasion of South African-owned farms and over the mounting rhetoric about the seizure of foreign-owned mining companies under the indigenisation law.

Observers see the tough talk of Mavimbela, former director general in the South African presidency, as the out­ward expression of a major shift in relations between Pretoria and Harare under President Jacob Zuma, who is clearly turning up the heat on the 87-year-old Mugabe in a bid to force him to rein in lawlessness by members of his party.

Political analyst Trevor Maisiri said: “The ambassador’s sentiments are a clear indication of a changing of the guard in Pretoria.”

Mavimbela, quoted in the state-owned Herald after meeting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at the weekend, said: “We are not happy with the farm invasions that have been taking place in the country and South African farmers being evicted from their farms.

“Scores of farmers came to our offices for assistance and the majority have been rendered destitute, save for a few who have been taken in by friends.”

Earlier this month, Zanu-PF youths in Nyazura evicted two South African farmers—Koos Smith of De Rust farm and Tienie van Rensburg of Rueben farm—giving them an hour’s notice to pack up their belongings and leave.

It is understood that the South African envoy has been irked further by Harare’s disregard for a 2009 bilateral trade agreement between the two countries, intended to protect South African investments in Zimbabwe.

Matters beyond
Mavimbela said that some matters “have gone beyond the level of the embassy and the situation now needs state-to-state dialogue”.

Zanu-PF national chairperson Simon Khaya Moyo shrugged off Mavimbela’s comments. “The South African ambassador does not answer to Zanu-PF and so there is no way that Zanu-PF can deal with the issue. It’s a matter between two governments,” Moyo said.

In the past, Zim­babwe’s foreign affairs ministry has read the riot act to Western countries over their perceived involvement in the country’s internal affairs. Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi is well known for his brash style with foreign diplomats.

He could not be reached for comment.

This week Hendrik Olivier, the chief executive of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe, welcomed Mavimbela’s public stance, saying that it would “help influence and hold in check” land invasions.

“Invasions have taken place over the past 11 years, despite Zimbabwe being a signatory of bilateral agreements with many countries, including South Africa.

“It remains to be seen whether the government will take the necessary steps to respect its trade agreements,” said Olivier.

Meanwhile, divisions have emerged over the indigenisation laws in Zanu-PF and the coalition government, with the Affirmative Action Group, a militant black empowerment project linked to Zanu-PF, splintering over the beneficiaries of the expropriation of foreign business interests.

The action group’s entire executive board, led by journalist-cum-businessman Supa Mandiwanzira, has stepped down, giving way to Philip Chiyangwa, a property tycoon and nephew of Mugabe.

The board has been accused of “having lost its way and put individual gain before mass empowerment”.

There have also been claims that $32 000 has been embezzled from the project.

Ray Ndlovu

Ray Ndlovu

Ray Ndlovu has been a correspondent for the Mail & Guardian in Zimbabwe since 2009. His areas of interest include politics and business. With a BSc honours degree in journalism and media studies, Ray aspires to become a media mogul.   Read more from Ray Ndlovu

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