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Zimbabwe's National Unity Government Locks Horns on Land

  • Peta Thornycroft

Western reconstruction assistance to Zimbabwe is being held up because President Robert Mugabe's supporters are continuing to disrupt farming activity on white-run farms. Meanwhile, a white Zimbabwe commercial farmer has been elected as president of the regional agricultural union and vice president for Africa on the world body representing most small-scale and communal farmers.

From the launch of the unity government in Zimbabwe in February, Western governments stipulated that development aid would only be given to Zimbabwe if several conditions were met. One of those was a cessation of farm invasions and other disruptions on farms by supporters of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party; and, the security services which still answer only to him.

These activities are a continuation of the chaotic land-reform process begun in 2000 by Mr. Mugabe's government, under which some 4,000 commercial farmers have lost their land, much of it to high-ranking ZANU-PF members and Mr. Mugabe's cronies.

Despite that, invasions have continued and there has been a continuous effort by supporters of President Mugabe to disrupt and prevent farming activity, and police are charging landowners with trespass.

Both factions of the Movement for Democratic Change have demanded an end to these actions and say there must be a moratorium on the question of land. President Robert Mugabe says the land seizures by his supporters must continue, because all agricultural land has been nationalized.

Sources tell VOA that negotiations between Mr. Mugabe and the two MDC leaders, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambare, to resolve the matter remain stuck on several important points. A new round of negotiations begins Monday.

Western diplomats say, until this issue is settled and production allowed to continue, there will be no meaningful Western aid to begin the massive start of rebuilding Zimbabwe's destroyed economy.

Doug Taylor-Freeme, who will be prosecuted for trespass in a district court in northern Zimbabwe, Tuesday, was recently elected as president of the Southern Africa Development Community's Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions. He was also elected the African vice president of the World Federation of International Agricultural Producers, which represents millions of mainly small-scale and communal farmers around the world.

He says his election means he represents the vast majority of southern African farmers. He says the confederation's support for beleaguered Zimbabwean farmers in the last few years has been crucial.

"There's been a very consistent message from them," he said. "These bodies are structures to promote agriculture and, with the destruction of the agriculture sector in Zimbabwe, this goes against all their principles, and so they have been pretty strong . With SADC being given the mandate to resolve the Zimbabwe issue and because SACAU is part of SADC it puts us, or it puts me, in a very strong position to try and deal with the recovery of agriculture."

Taylor-Freeme says all Zimbabwe's farmers are impatient for a resolution of the land question, which has led, in large part, to the collapse of the economy which has depended on agriculture for generations.

"So in Zimbabwe, both large or small-scale farmers, none of us can farm effectively. So collectively there is a message from the grassroots levels, saying come on we need a balance. We need to help each other. I believe there is enough land for everybody and so there is a voice coming from the bottom to political leaders, we need to resolve this and get the country productive again," he said.

Taylor-Freeme remains hopeful there will be a resolution to the current deadlock.

"I am still pretty confident that with time, reality will dawn," he said. "If you want investment, if you want financial access to the world's resources, you have got to come into line with international policies and regional policies. I give it a couple of months before that will all come into line. I am still pretty confident that it will come right."

Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Tsvangirai and Mr. Mutambara, the deputy prime minister, have failed to find common ground on land ownership and farm disruptions. However, they are now discussing a moratorium on action against land owners.