News / Africa

Zimbabwe Army to Protect Land 'Reform'

Peta Thornycroft

Zimbabwe Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa says the national army will be used to ensure the controversial land-reform program is never reversed.  About eight million hectares were taken from white farmers without compensation during the past 10 years.

The global political agreement that led to formation of an inclusive government nearly a year ago says Zimbabwe's 'land reform' program is irreversible.  The agreement also committed the inclusive government to a land audit to ensure agricultural land is distributed fairly and is used productively.  The land audit has not begun.

Many top ZANU-PF Party leaders, including President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace have taken several formerly white-owned farms.

When the land seizures began, Mr. Mugabe said the government's policy was 'one man, one farm.'

Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who says he hopes to succeed Mr. Mugabe one day, is a beneficiary of a white-owned farm.  He also bought at least one other farm since Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1980.

Mnangagwa, a ZANU-PF Party member, raised the political temperature this week saying, he would deploy the army as "a priority" to ensure the land reform program is never reversed.

He told military cadets in a staff training course that 'land reform' is one of the 'major priorities' of the national defense force.

Commercial Farmers Union leader Deon Theron said the statement by the defense minister was "extremely worrying."  He said he believed his statement was ZANU-PF policy. 

Theron said there is a "real possibility now that the national army will be used to prevent the audit."  He said he did not know whether the defense minister's statement reflected the position of the unity government that includes the Movement for Democratic Change, which won national elections in 2008.

Zimbabwe's economy used to depend on agriculture, but began collapsing after white farmers, who grew 90 percent of export crops, were forced off their land.  About 4,000 white farmers were evicted and about 300 remain on small parts of their original landholdings.

About half of them are fighting eviction via the courts.

Four white farmers lost their fight Tuesday in a lower court in Chipinge, in eastern Zimbabwe and were denied permission to appeal the decision to the High Court.

The four families and many of their workers say they are packing to leave their homes before the Wednesday night deadline set by magistrate Samuel Dzuze in the Chipinge Magistrate's Court. 

Tuesday, the Harare High Court said Zimbabwe is under no obligation to recognize a 2008 ruling by a Southern African Development Community tribunal that found the land seizures were racist and should stop, and that white farmers already evicted should be compensated immediately.

Farmers went to the Harare High court to try to get the 2008 SADC ruling accepted in Zimbabwe law.

Judge Bharat Patel ruled that although Zimbabwe recognized the tribunal as a competent authority it did not accept its ruling on land, because the judgment went against "public policy and the Zimbabwe constitution."  He also said Zimbabwe's land policies are designed for the "greater good." 

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