‘New’ farmers abandon land(08-02-07)

"Mugabe has betrayed us"
HARARE - Thousands of new farmers who grabbed white-owned farms in Zimbabwe in the biggest mass occupation of recent times are leaving their stolen land and walking home.
They feel betrayed by Robert Mugabe, the faltering, 82-year-old President whose government lured

the urban poor into the countryside with pledges that they would share not only lands once known as the breadbasket of Africa, but also food and petrol that would be essential to survive while they fed the nation.
The supplies have not arrived amid a fuel crisis so severe that commuters have been involved in fistfights at petrol stations. Other who took up work on grabbed farms cannot cope with their meager incomes. They told a Parliamentary portfolio committee last week that the $8,500 they were earning monthly was grossly insufficient. More than 250,000 farm workers countrywide are on go-slow right now.
When the land rush began in 2000, prompted by Mugabe’s cynical attempt to distract attention from the country’s economic woes and from his own failure to win a constitutional referendum that would have extended his rule by a decade, up to 70,000 people stepped onto state-sponsored buses that ferried them to the farm gates.
That was the last State aid many hapless squatters saw.
General Agriculture Plantations Workers Union of Zimbabwe organising secretary Edward Dzeka told The Zimbabwean that the new farmers who grabbed white-owned farms were paying farm workers “peanuts.”
“Farm workers are not monkeys who live on peanuts,” said Dzeka. At Cremer Farm in Chegutu, a farming and mining town 100kms due west of Harare, farm workers had downed their tools demanding better pay. They are currently earning $8,320. They want their salaries increased to only $24,000.
During the 2005/2006 agricultural season, as many as 2,000 of the 3,500 white-owned farms were under occupation, but last week, according to confidential official estimates, the number of squatters was down to 58,000 on 1,400 farms.
There is a pattern here that is unnerving Mugabe’s Development Cabinet, if not the increasingly detached president himself. Most of the farms still occupied are in Mashonaland, his tribal stronghold between Harare, the capital, and the northern borders towards Zambia.
But towards the borders with Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique, local people are crossing the border in droves while many have abandoned their farms and are going into gold panning and smuggling.

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