/ 28 February 2014

Land grabs rattle Zim farmers

Land Grabs Rattle Zim Farmers

Fresh anxiety has gripped Zimbabwe's agricultural sector. More than 40 farms have been threatened with invasion since December last year and eight commercial ­farmers have been forced off their properties since January.

The invasions have resulted in disruptions to farming activity at a crucial time in the summer cropping season.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general Japhet Moyo said the land invasions had resulted in 890 farmworkers losing their jobs, contributing to the 9 617 job losses recorded since January 1.

Perhaps what is most concerning for old and new farmers alike is that, 14 years after the invasions began, Zanu-PF and the government are still unwilling to put a date to the end of the land reform programme.

When asked what the policy time frame is concerning this programme, Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo referred the Mail & Guardian to Minister of Lands Douglas Mombeshora, who could not be reached for comment.

The situation could worsen for farmers, as Zanu-PF youths are also demanding land. They have told President Robert Mugabe of their intention to acquire land, saying they were left out of the land reform programme.

Youth desperate for land
Zanu-PF deputy secretary for youth Edison Chakanyuka told Mugabe during his 90th birthday celebrations in Marondera last week that the youth were desperate for land.

"We, together with the war veterans, played a big role in the land reform programme. But we did not receive land. When are we also going to benefit from the land reform programme?" he asked while delivering a vote of thanks at the birthday party.

Last week, the war veterans' spokesperson in Chiredzi, Ezra Charinda, told the M&G that war vets wanted government to give them part of the estate belonging to sugar milling giant Tongaat Hulett.

Charinda said new farms were promised to war vets if they helped Zanu-PF to campaign and win last year's election.

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe president Charles Taffs told the M&G that the fresh invasions have resulted in uncertainty among farmers.

"We have been under a lot of pressure since December. We have had in excess of 40 attempted evictions since then but we have managed to resolve all of them bar eight.

Anxiety and uncertainty
"We are seeing a lot of opportunism from some powerful people and this has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty," said Taffs.

"Where in the world do you just walk on to a property and declare you are the new owner? But this is still happening here. Because of the uncertainty, most farmers are questioning whether they should continue with their operations.

"What is happening is not good for agriculture at all. Agriculture thrives where there is long-term planning and farmers need to access 20-to 25-year finance to develop infrastructure such as irrigation, but that cannot happen with this uncertainty."

Taffs said the government position on invasions is unclear, adding that there is a need for dialogue to bring clarity and finality to the land issue.

The union had managed to solve some of the land disputes with the help of certain government officials, whom he declined to name. He said that in most cases land invaders claim to have offer letters from the ministry of lands and rural resettlement, but never produce the paperwork.

Taffs would not reveal how many white farmers are left on the ground, but said about a tenth of those operating before the inception of the land reform programme were still farming.

Increased vulnerability of farmworkers
The union had a membership of about 3 200 in 2000, when the Zanu-PF government embarked on its violent land reform programme that left several farmers dead.

The general secretary of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers' Union of Zimbabwe, Gift Muti, confirmed the land grabs and said they had resulted in increased vulnerability of farmworkers.

"There have been land grabs in Mashonaland West, Manicaland, Midlands and in some cases workers have lost jobs as a result. In some instances the invaders are coming with offer letters, but unlike in the past there has been no violence," said Muti.

"There is confusion in the agricultural sector and even some people who were allocated land during the land reform programme have also been victims of land invasions."

There are increasing incidents of resettled farmers being evicted by new farmers who lay claim to land.

Taffs said it was unfortunate that disturbances were occurring at a time when Zimbabwe should be focused on ensuring food security and restoring the agricultural value chain.

Deputy minister in the dark
The deputy minister of agriculture, mechanisation and irrigation development responsible for cropping, Davis Marapira, told the M&G he was unaware of any disturbances on the farms.

"Unfortunately, I have been assisting flood victims in Tokwe-Mukosi, so I have not received any such reports. I don't even have access to newspapers here, so I am not aware of what is happening," he said.

Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said Zanu-PF had deliberately left the land reform programme open-ended.

"By leaving it open-ended, it can be useful for accumulation of wealth in later years. The desire for wealth is insatiable and it could have been done with an eye on the future.

"It's also likely that it has been left open-ended because it enables the party to remain in control of the land and therefore use it for political purposes in future. People who have land always feel that they are vulnerable, leaving Zanu-PF in control.

"Even those who were allocated land feel vulnerable and remain grateful to Zanu-PF because they know they can lose the land," Nkomo said.

Beneficiaries given leases
"That is the reason beneficiaries of the land reform programme were not given title deeds but leases: they want them to remain eternally grateful and vulnerable."

The wave of invasions comes as the United Nations World Food Programme estimates that one in four people in rural areas is unable to meet their food needs.

The Zimbabwean government has been trying to bridge the gap by importing maize from neighbouring countries such as Zambia and South Africa.

Although government officials have called for a halt to land invasions over the years, the government has continued to acquire land from farmers and private companies.

Mugabe's wife, Grace, took over part of former Interfresh's Mazoe Citrus Estate last year. She occupied more land on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed agricultural producer's property this year.

Two years ago, the first family rendered more than 50 families homeless by occupying Manzou Game Reserve in Mashonaland Central.