SA not sweet on Zim plan to nab sugar firm’s land

Tongaat Hulett is the subject of heated debate in Zimbabwe, where government officials are allegedly debating whether to expropriate the sugar company's farmlands, leaving it only with its milling operations.

Some Cabinet ministers, such as Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, are allegedly against the planned expropriation, saying it would disrupt efforts to revive the country's economy. He is said to be backed by several other ministers.

Tongaat Hulett, which wholly owns Triangle Limited and 50.3% of Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Hippo Valley Estates, is seeking protection under the bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement signed in 2010 between Zimbabwe and South Africa. South Africa has apparently made it clear that it wants Zimbabwe to respect the agreement.

Tongaat Hulett also runs Mkwasine Sugarcane Estates in Mwenezi. Frank Stevens, the South African department of trade and industry representative in Zimbabwe, said this week: "We've not been approached by Tongaat Hulett yet, but the agreement [binding the Zimbabwe government] … protects Tongaat Hulett."

Zimbabwe's reluctance to expropriate the land could have to do with the huge bill it accrued after losing some international lawsuits for forcibly acquiring farms or land protected by the agreements.

A Zimbabwean government official, who did not want to be named, said: "[President Robert] Mugabe is in support of the acquisition of Tongaat Hulett's land, but he is aware of the concerns from the South African government against such a move. Any deviation from that agreement would be unacceptable."

Amended agreement
South Africa has already conceded on earlier land grabs and the agreement between the two companies has been amended to read: "This agreement shall apply to all investments, whether made before or after the date of entry into force of this agreement, but shall not apply to any property right or interest compulsorily acquired by either party in its own territory before the entry into force of this agreement."

Tongaat Hulett's Zimbabwe operations consist of 44 519 hectares, with a demonstrated potential to produce in excess of three million tonnes of sugar cane annually.

The company has allocated private farmers an initial 15 880 hectares of land through its Rural Sugar Cane Farming Community Project.

Proposals seen by the Mail & Guardian indicate that officials from the Masvingo province, where Tongaat Hulett's operations are based, want the government to expropriate 10 000 hectares for resettlement.

This would be incremental over the next five years until all the land is parcelled out.

The plan is that Tongaat Hulett would be left with the Triangle and Hippo Valley Estates sugar mill businesses, whereas growing sugar cane is undertaken by indigenous farmers.

Planning to stay
Tongaat Hulett officials have declined to comment but, in May last year, the firm's chief executive Peter Staude said that the company plans to stay "in the country a long time and work with the people".

The company in the past has distanced itself from criticism of the Zimbabwe government.

An official from Masvingo ­province said the ­government is "seeing a gravy train".

"It's meant to benefit only the chiefs; it's nothing to do with resettlement of the landless blacks," the official claimed.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Women are South Africa’s changemakers and they deserve more

The truth is the economy still largely revolves around men, especially white men like me, writes Alef Meulenberg.

As opposition mounts, Zimbabwe’s president lashes out

Emmerson Mnangagwa has accused ‘dark forces’ of destabilising the country

Hope is locked away in Zimbabwe

Hopewell Chin’ono backed President Emmerson Mnangagwa when he succeeded Robert Mugabe. Now he’s in jail

Covid-19 is taking its toll on people’s state of mind

The future is uncertain, and the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression is rising

The SADC will regret its approach to Mozambique’s insurgence

The SADC has been lackadaisical in its response to the insurgency in Mozambique and in so doing, is putting several other southern African countries at risk

Unfollow the leader: The Twitter campaign against Zimbabwe’s president

Campaigners urge Zimbabweans to unfollow the president on Twitter

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Fees free fall, independent schools close

Parents have lost their jobs or had salaries cut; without state help the schools just can’t survive

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday