Harare – Robert Mugabe is worried about maize production this year. And it is not only unkind, seasonal weather – late rains, and now no rain – that is the cause of the poor harvest this year.

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Copy of ca p9 Mugabe DONE

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His farmers have failed him.

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On the eve of his birthday party in Victoria Falls on Saturday, Mugabe told state media he worried that perhaps he had given A2 farmers, as they are known, too much of the land taken from white commercial farmers since 2000.

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“…I think the farms we gave to people are too large, they can’t manage them. Most of them are just using one-third of the land.”

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The A2 sector comprises mainly top civil servants, MPs, army generals and other Zanu-PF cronies who were given large pieces of white-owned land, in the hope they would become the new commercial farming class to replace the 4 000 white farmers who had been booted out.

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But few of the A2s have succeeded, mostly because they had no experience of commercial agriculture. And analysts say they cannot borrow money from banks to finance their crops because they have no title deeds for their properties to use as security for overdrafts to finance production.

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That’s because Mugabe nationalised all farmland.

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Some A2 farmers are growing tobacco and are financed by US, UK and Chinese tobacco companies. This is mostly successful and tobacco is once again the main export, but much of the best of the crop is still grown by the few remaining white farmers. Thousands of small, new peasant farmers, the A1s, are each growing one or two hectares of lower-grade leaf, which is bulking up the national production.

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But tobacco is not food and huge tracts of indigenous forest in northern Zimbabwe are disappearing because most of the tobacco farmers cannot afford coal and are curing their crop using wood.

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Meanwhile, in southern Zimbabwe, an area where Mugabe is not a regular visitor, members of the lands department, and some of Mugabe’s associates from parliament, as well as civil servants in the lands department, are chasing the last productive white farmers away. Again.

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These farmers mostly produce first-class beef and crops like potatoes. But nearly all of those who survived the traumatic first 15 years of land grabs in Matabeleland South are now being forced off land they use so well.

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Among them is Hendrik Viljoen, director of the Commercial Farmers Union. He and others are under intense physical and psychological pressure to abandon their homes as invaders round up their assets, order them off their properties, and threaten them with arrest.

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The farmers say officials from the lands ministry, which supervises the reallocation of white-owned land to Zanu-PF supporters, moved onto their farms in January to assess fixed and moveable assets.

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At least one farmer under threat was arrested recently and spent a night in police cells. He said he was threatened again last week. Others say they have moved out of their homes on their farms to the relative safety of the country’s second city, Bulawayo.

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The costs for lawyers to defend some of those facing charges of “illegally” remaining in their homes is also taking a toll as cattle farming in the dry south is not easy.

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“It’s cruel,” said one farmer, who is 42 and married and has one child at boarding school in South Africa. He asked not to be named, as he is the last remaining white in a huge district about 100km north of the border with South Africa. He says he is so tired of the pressure to leave the farm that he now wants to leave the country.

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All his white neighbours have gone and he is lonely. He only has a handful of workers left and much of the infrastructure the community created around themselves over decades of investment into farming, is destroyed, such as conservancies, country clubs, farm shops, clinics and schools.

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He believes he was left alone for so long because he was dishing out favours, goods, cash, and expert advice to senior politicians loyal to Mugabe, including members of the army who took land from his neighbours who have all left the country over the past 15 years.

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“Apart from losing my business… I am losing my home. The only one I have ever known. But it is too much. They are crawling all over it now… They are everywhere.”

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Workers from the lands ministry “are making a list of what is here, as they say it belongs to the government. They told me I have to go, as people like me are not wanted in Zimbabwe. Today they are measuring up my house”.

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It is cattle land in this part of Zimbabwe, which is also sparsely populated, and it’s dry in Matabeleland South province so farmers need huge tracts of land to support prime beef herds. “I have a handful of workers and I only remain because I have no other way of earning a living.”

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The farmers’ union says 200-300 white farmers remain in Zimbabwe, on small bits of their original land holdings. Most are tobacco farmers who live far north from the cattle farmers now under threat in the south.