New wave of farm problems in Zim

Burning issue: Black farmers have been working with white counterparts to survive in the cut-throat business. (Aaron Ufumeli)

Burning issue: Black farmers have been working with white counterparts to survive in the cut-throat business. (Aaron Ufumeli)

Fresh jitters have hit the country’s commercial farming sector because of renewed farm invasions on the back of President Robert Mugabe’s recent remarks that whites should not be allowed to own land in Zimbabwe.

On Monday more than 100 Zanu-PF activists, clad in party regalia, descended on Mazwi Game Reserve, a Bulawayo city council-owned property, and started parcelling out plots to party supporters.

On Tuesday in Mashonaland East, locals fought running battles with riot police as they sought to occupy a farm in Bromley.

The Commercial Farmers Union, a once very influential pressure group representing white farmers prior to the land reforms in 2000, confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that a resurgence of instability and uncertainty had taken place in the commercial farming sector in recent weeks.

The union’s president, Charles Taffs, told the M&G that they had been getting reports of new takeovers since last week.

Critics, particularly the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), have been quick to attribute the latest round of farm occupations directly to the president’s remarks, saying that Mugabe is seeking to divert attention away from his government’s failure to address the economic woes.

Mugabe’s warning
Addressing party supporters in his Mashonaland West home province this month, Mugabe said: “We say no to whites owning our land, and they should go. They can own companies and apartments ... but not the soil.
It is ours and that message should ring loud and clear in Britain and the United States.”

He also warned that anyone found to be collaborating with white farmers would not be tolerated.

Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba was not immediately available to comment.

MDC spokesperson, Douglas Mwonzora, described Mugabe’s remarks as meaningless rhetoric at a time when the country no longer had any significant white farmers.

‘Betrayal of policy’
Taffs said Mugabe’s speech also seemed to be targeting black beneficiaries of the land reform programme. Taffs said many land beneficiaries “have discovered that farming is a tough business and they have sought to collaborate with white farmers – and this is seen as a betrayal of a policy aimed at black empowerment”.

Mugabe has in the past repeatedly derided new landowners for renting out farms to white commercial farmers dispossessed of their farms by the government.

Taffs said, from the perspective of white farmers, the union recognises that grievances relating to the historical inequity in access to land have long needed resolution.

“However, a policy of exclusion rather than inclusion mirrors our past and is at odds with natural justice. Our constituency would like to be a part of that process as contributors to our national wellbeing. It is sad to note that the president’s words appear to be at odds with this sentiment.”

Analysts who spoke to the M&G say that Mugabe’s racial slurs are not in line with the new Constitution that guarantees all Zimbabweans of whatever race the right to own property.

Charles Hungwe, a Harare-based political analyst, said Mugabe’s statements would negatively affect the future viability of the country as an investment destination.

“Mugabe himself may not be thinking of long-term effects, but those intending to succeed him would be thinking about the difficulties they will have in trying to kick-start the economy in the post-Mugabe era,” observed Hungwe.

“Emerson Mnangagwa [the minister of justice and legal affairs] might have tried to pacify Mugabe’s statements, yet Mugabe himself is really robust and does not seem to care much about what happens in the future.”

Mnangagwa last week told Parliament that Mugabe had been misunderstood and white people were allowed to own land and had also benefited from the land redistribution programme.

Political analyst Kuthula Matshazi said that, with the economic challenges, Zimbabwe should focus on how the country could best use available resources. Matshazi said land leasing, among many arrangements, could be a useful approach to bringing investment into agriculture.

This would be without necessarily having to profile any race or nationality and without reversing the land reform, which is what government fears the most, Matshazi added.

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