No Respite for White Farmers

Mugabe vows to press ahead with land grabs, despite Tsvangirai’s call for them to cease.

No Respite for White Farmers

Mugabe vows to press ahead with land grabs, despite Tsvangirai’s call for them to cease.

The few white farmers who are still on their land in Zimbabwe are unlikely to feel any more secure under the new all-inclusive government if President Robert Mugabe and his followers have their way.

The vexed question of land ownership is still at the forefront of Zimbabwean politics, with Mugabe and his prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, at odds over procedures, though evidently agree that British prime minister Gordon Brown should be pressed to "honour Britain's obligations" and fund land restitution.

Mugabe, ignoring the so-called global political agreement, GPA, reached with Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which calls for an end to land seizures, has vowed that they will continue.

Tsvangirai, by contrast, has demanded that land grabs be halted immediately and has called for an audit of the country’s land to ascertain who owns what, to eliminate multiple ownership and ensure security of tenure for all farmers, black and white. Critics believe the land grab has benefited only the president’s cronies and peasants who support Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

The ambiguities of the power-sharing deal gives the wily octogenarian plenty of scope for obstruction and for outmanoeuvring his tactically far less astute rival.

In forging ahead with the land grab Mugabe argues that certain "salient principles" must be observed by the new coalition government, one of which is ownership of natural resources, which, he says, was the central issue of the liberation struggle which brought independence in 1980.

"Zimbabwe belongs to Zimbabweans," the president said recently, a clear indication that he and his party will block any attempt to reverse the country’s disastrous land reform programme. "Land distribution will continue," he told his supporters in the farming town of Chinhoyi on February 28.

Mugabe spoke as “veterans” of the 1970s war against white minority rule in the former Rhodesia continue to evict the remaining 250 of the country's original 4,500 commercial farmers. The veterans have demanded land they say was stolen by the British from their forefathers in the 1890s. In recent weeks, the government has bussed hundreds of families on to farms served with confiscation orders and there have been fresh invasions of other land. Mugabe says he plans to move more families on to the remaining expropriated farms, all of them white-owned commercial farming land.

"The few remaining white farmers should quickly vacate their farms, as they have no place there," Mugabe said. "I am still in control and hold executive authority," he added, making it clear that he is disinclined to compromise with his enemies over the land grab.

Tsvangirai has demanded a halt to what he calls the "wanton disruptions of productive farming activities", charging that they may cost the country more than 150 million US dollars in lost production.

"Those that believe that they can move onto a viable farm and steal the crops that are about to be harvested are wrong," Tsvangirai said.

"In our culture, as in our law, you cannot reap what you have not sown. In the GPA, we have committed ourselves and our parties to recognising that all land is used productively in the interests of all the people of Zimbabwe. A farm is a business that should provide food for our nation, revenue to our economy and employment for our people."

Should the land grabs continue, the new government may continue to be cut off from much needed western aid, as potential donors have made respect for property rights, along with other human rights, a precondition for resuming development assistance and pouring fresh funding into the agricultural sector – the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy.

A delegation of Zimbabwean ministers pleaded with South Africa ministers attending the third session of the Zimbabwe-South Africa Joint Commission, which ended at the tourist resort of Victoria Falls on March 14, to approach Zimbabwe's former colonial power, Britain, to accept responsibility for compensating white farmers who lost their land during the land reform process.

The government accuses Britain’s Labour government of reneging on an agreement reached with Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party government to fund land reform. The original deal formed part of the Lancaster House settlement which ended minority rule in Zimbabwe 29 years ago.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, asserting that regional support for Mugabe's position was unqualified and land reform was "irreversible”, reportedly assured his South African counterpart Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the Victoria Falls meeting that the process would be "handled peacefully, and within the provisions of the laws of Zimbabwe" – but made no reference to the war veterans' violence, the failure to obey court orders or a ruling by a Southern African Development Community, SADC, tribunal that illegal land seizures must be halted.

Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba urged London to "open a new chapter" in relations with its former colony in view of the establishment of the inclusive government.

"The British have acted irresponsibly. They still have a colonial mind," he said.

While Tsvangirai is seeking help from abroad to compensate evicted white farmers and provide much-needed support for new black farmers, the MDC accepts that it cannot restore the seized land to its former owners, many of whom have now left the country. Much of the land has gone to senior members of Mugabe’s circle and not to the landless blacks the land grabs were alleged to benefit.

South African diplomatic sources say that the country’s president, Kgalema Motlanthe, will seek a meeting with Brown on the issue. Motlanthe, while making clear his belief that Britain should fund the land acquisitions, has also called on Mugabe to adhere to the rule of law.

Diplomats say Britain is prepared to unfreeze a substantial donation it pledged at a donors conference held in 1998 to help pay for land redistribution but only once the illegal and sometimes violent occupation of white-owned farms by the veterans has ended.

However, Britain’s minister for Africa, Lord Malloch Brown, said last week that the government would not write "a blank cheque" for Zimbabwe.

Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained journalist in Zimbabwe.
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