Government to arrest, charge farm invaders – Prime Minister

HARARE – Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Friday warned people invading commercial farms that they were committing theft and would be arrested and prosecuted, appearing to challenge a key feature of President Robert Mugabe's land policies.

The seizure of white-owned farms to give to poor black Zimbabweans has become a controversial but important Mugabe strategy, and his opponents say this has helped to destroy the agriculture sector that was once the backbone of the economy.

Tsvangirai did not say when the arrests would be made but the invasions are coming at a time when farmers are preparing to harvest their summer crops, raising fears of further loss of food in a country where millions rely on humanitarian aid.

Hundreds of white commercial farmers who had survived often violent land seizures by Mugabe’s government since 2000 and some black resettled farmers have in the past month reported a rise in incidences of invasions.

"This government is aware that most of the ongoing disruptions of agricultural production, which are being done in the name of the land reform process, are actually acts of theft," Tsvangirai told a meeting of diplomats, civic society and business leaders.

"Those continuing to undertake these activities will be arrested and face justice in the courts. I have tasked the minister of home affairs to ensure that all crimes are acted upon and the perpetrators arrested and charged."

LAND AUDIT PLEDGE

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change formed a power-sharing government last month and pledged to undertake an audit of the land reform exercise which would see the government taking back land from multiple farm owners and those not fully utilising it.  

Thousands of white farmers have fled the country since 2000 and critics say the land reforms were responsible for plunging farm output and accelerated the collapse of the economy, whose recovery is the biggest challenge of the new government.

Tsvangirai said while the government had no money, this would not stop it from pushing through reforms to attract foreign investment, enforcing the rule of law and freeing up the media, all key demands of Western donors.

"Our development agenda should not be held hostage by our significant fiscal restraints. Indeed, implementing these steps that cost nothing will pave the way for our economic growth," Tsvangirai said.

The government has already launched a short economic recovery programme which it says will give greater emphasis to political reforms demanded by Western donors who want a democratic government before pouring in money.