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Zimbabwe Claims Recovery of Seized Land from Loyalists Who Took Too Much - 2004-01-01

The Zimbabwe government has said it has recovered more 200,000 hectares of formerly white-owned land from ruling party loyalists who have taken more than one farm. Minister of Special Affairs in President Robert Mugabe's office John Nkomo, who also is responsible for managing land ownership, said the amount of land recovered from the ruling party loyalists is changing all the time.

He said he would not know for some time how much land had been finally recovered from those who grabbed more than they are allowed, but that it would be redistributed to people who applied for land, but had so far not received any.

The few white commercial farmers left on their properties said Thursday they can see no evidence that Cabinet ministers, judges, bank managers, senior army personnel and other leaders, have abandoned any of the farms they took.

Mac Crawford, who heads an association of ranchers in the southern Matabeleland province, said "most of them do not live on the land, and are careful to cover up what they have taken."

When President Mugabe sent loyalists to evict white farmers in February 2000, he told Zimbabweans the future agricultural policy would be "one man, one farm."

But over Christmas, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, Deputy Transport Minister Chris Mushowe, and a senior civil servant, Joseph Mutowenyika, went onto a farm in eastern Zimbabwe and told the white owners that they must leave the land immediately. They acted against a recent court order prohibiting the confiscation of the farm.

The majority shareholder in the farm, Edwin Moyo, said the three officials were claiming the land for themselves, even though each of them already has at least one farm.

The farm, now Zimbabwe's largest exporter of vegetables, employs 6,000 people. Mr. Made was not available for comment Thursday.

The government's land distribution program has had a disastrous effect on Zimbabwe's agricultural production. Once a food exporter, Zimbabwe now depends on the World Food Program to feed five million people, or nearly half the population.