The government formed by Mugabe and his former rival Morgan Tsvangirai,
now prime minister, is trying to persuade reluctant Western donors to
pledge financial support that is crucial to ending the country’s
devastating economic crisis.
Zimbabwe’s commercial agriculture sector has plummeted since Mugabe’s
supporters occupied white-owned farms in 2000, and the country has had
to rely on aid to feed its people. New farm invasions would probably
stoke donors’ and investors’ fears.
A government team led by deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara on
Friday visited farms in Chegutu, a rich farming district west of Harare
where farmers’ groups say 17 farms and 2,000 workers have been affected
by new land occupations.
James Etheredge told reporters his $3.5 million farm was occupied in
February by Edna Madzongwe, president of the senate and a senior
official in Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
"We were forced to leave our farm under cover of darkness by armed
thugs," Etheredge, who lived with his wife and his son’s family at
Stockdale Citrus Estate, some 100 km west of Harare, told Reuters.
Local media say Madzongwe owns three other farms.
The farm invasions in the Chegutu farming district have intensified and
appear to be aimed at white farmers who successfully challenged
Mugabe’s land reforms at a regional Southern Africa Development
Community (SADC) tribunal last year.
Mugabe, the country’s only ruler since independence from Britain in
1980, has vowed not to reverse his controversial land policy and
accuses the former colonial power of organising Western sanctions to
punish his government for the seizures.
Madzongwe’s daughter Farai said her mother had given up a previous
property so that the government could resettle more black farmers and
had had a government offer dated September 2007 when she first tried to
occupy Etheredge’s farm.
Madzongwe moved onto the 100 hectare farm in February. It exports 400,000 boxes of oranges a year and other citrus fruit.
"We are are just making assessments of operations in the eventuality
that we take the farm when all the court issues are resolved," Farai
said, as an armed police officer paced nearby.
Mutumbara, head of a breakaway opposition group until he joined the
unity government, told reporters "problems" on Zimbabwean farms should
not be allowed to undermine the unity government and said illegal
occupations would not be tolerated.
"Our country right now is trying to attract investment, attract aid, we
can’t afford to be damaging business confidence," he said. "We will not
tolerate any government official who is promoting lawlessness in our
Mutambara said some blacks were using fake land offer letters as an
excuse to occupy farms, and his team would present its findings to the
cabinet next week.
ReutersPost published in: News