Secret paper reveals plans of new wave of farm invasions

Barely a year into Zimbabwe's government of national unity, Zanu-PF is paying lip service to agreements to end the violent land redistribution programme

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s government plans to ratchet up the land grab on white-owned farms as a terrifying new wave of farm seizures has erupted in the strife-torn country.

This "recommendation" is contained in a closely guarded government document prepared by minister of lands Herbert Murerwa and presented exclusively to Mugabe’s cabinet on August 27. It is in the Sunday Times’s possession.

It seems to contradict the power-sharing agreement signed last year by Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, which committed the country to "ensure security of tenure for all land holders" and said that land should be given "irrespective of race".

Instead, Murerwa said the "government should continue to acquire land" from white farmers and the "prosecution of farmers resisting to move off the acquired land should be expedited".

"The refusal by these former farm owners to vacate gazetted farms has disadvantaged 251 (beneficiaries of the land grab) who hold offer letters," he said.

The document appears to confirm speculation that the new wave of farm invasions is the result of a directive from the top echelons of Mugabe’s government.

Deon Theron, head of Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmers’ Union, said: "Things have definitely got worse in the last few days. It seems that instructions have gone out from the top and we’re now being hammered."

The latest developments include:

  • Reserve Bank deputy governor Edward Mashiringwani forced South African farmer Louis Fick off his pig and crocodile farm last week, putting livestock worth US$255000 at risk;
  • Tobacco farmer Murray Pott was savagely assaulted on Tuesday when he tried to prevent a "war veteran" from taking over his land and charged with "public violence";
  • Cattle farmer Mark Surtees was convicted on Friday for "failing to vacate" his farm after a court battle that has cost him US$8000 and left him broke; and
  • At least 223 cash-strapped farmers are being prosecuted for "failing to vacate" their farms and are battling to foot the US$1.5-million legal bill.

In the cabinet document, Murerwa said "no foreigner should be allowed to own rural agricultural land", which "should be excluded from the protection afforded by the bilateral investment promotion and protection agreements".

South Africa is currently trying to thrash out such a trade agreement with Zimbabwe, but it has deadlocked over the land issue.

The Sunday Times visited a number of once-thriving farms this week that have been taken over by Zanu-PF officials. These farms now lie fallow and swamped in weeds, and infrastructure such as electricity towers and irrigation pipes have been stripped of steel and iron.

Doug Taylor-Freeme, who farms tobacco and barley, said: "The world believes things got better for farmers after the government of national unity was created last year. But, in fact, it has just got worse."

Taylor-Freeme has already lost 3000ha in farm grabs to the government and is now fighting a claim on his last remaining 750ha.

In a bizarre twist, the local magistrate who seeks to grab his farm will adjudicate on Taylor-Freeme’s prosecution for "failing to vacate" the land.

The cabinet document says Zimbabwe must continue "acquiring" land because "stopping the programme now will be construed as a reversal of the land reform programme, (which) can ignite further and more violent protests, disturbing (the) peace and tranquility currently prevailing in the country".

This revelation comes after Mugabe implored investors to plough cash into the country at this week’s mining indaba, saying "the sanctity of property rights and the rule of law in all its dimensions are fully respected".

During a closed-door meeting with about 20 investors, Mugabe related how he had "negotiated" to get land from the Oppenheimer family, saying: "We’re not that rough and racist as some people regard us."

But the latest farm invasions threaten to derail the much trumpeted economic recovery in Zimbabwe, where the average salary is US$150 a month. The catalyst seems to have been Mugabe’s speech to the Zanu-PF Youth Congress last week in which he spoke of the "bloody whites", told farmers "please don’t resist" and threatened "I’m saying ‘please, please’ but that will stop".

The farmers union believes with too few farmers and a Southern African drought imminent, Zimbabwe is at risk of starving next year. The Sunday Times