Six years after instituting a policy of nationalizing white-owned farms and evicting their owners, Zimbabwe's government has begun to seize white-owned land in urban Harare.
Some 200 workers were rounded up by police and forced out of their homes last week. The workers lived and were employed on Gletwyn, a large property in the midst of several wealthy suburbs, 14 kilometers east of the city center. Many of them had lived there all their lives.
Gletwyn is an old farm, incorporated into the city of Harare in 1996. The owners, two brothers, planned to subdivide the land into a new suburb, but would continue to grow specialist crops, such as corn seed.
Police arrived before Christmas and said they were going to build houses for themselves on Gletwyn. Ian Ross, 68, said the police started harassing and evicting hundreds of workers from their homes.
"They arrived to evict the workers, which they did piece by piece, village by village, compound by compound. They were loaded onto police trucks in the rain, which most of the time arrived without fuel," he said. "They forced workers to buy fuel for them. They took them to various parts of the country. They were basically dumped, they lost all their furniture, saturated in the rain, but within days they all started to come back with a reed mat, a couple of blankets, a pot. They came back to work, but were hounded day and night. They moved into sheds, where they could sleep. The guys moved in to chicken runs; they were living like rabbits, like little rats in a hole."
Ross, one of the owners of Gletwyn, went to court this week to try and stop the police action against the workers.
Mac Tembo, 46, is a workshop manager who has worked at Gletwyn for 25 years. He says he was sent back to his rural home, Nyampanda on the border with Mozambique, but returned days later. "I want to work," he said. "I have got more problems. I want to sort my problems. I [have] got children [who] go to school, and we haven't got food at Nyamapanda. If Mr. Ross goes, myself, I will go to Nyamapanda. If Mr. Ross is here, I myself will be here."
Tembo says he was kidnapped by state security agents Tuesday and taken to Harare central police station to answer questions about stolen and destroyed agricultural equipment, which he said was taken by thieves roaming the land.
A property firm with ties to the government, Divine Homes, also says it has rights to Gletwyn. It is marketing 600 units on behalf of the government, arguing that Gletwyn is public property as it is a white-owned farm.
A Divine Homes company official said this week there were no title deeds available for the units, but that this will "sort itself out over time."
Deputy Finance Minister David Chapfkika is listed as chairman of the company. He was not available for comment this week, nor were ministers in charge of land affairs or local government.
Earthmovers operate at Gletwyn daily, chewing up fields with huge graders and bulldozers, destroying borehole pumps, pipes and water reservoirs, laying down crude, muddy roads, in no apparent order.
Last week they bulldozed workers' homes, cooking huts and thatched sheds workers built to store possessions.
Gletwyn is urban land and was exempt from nationalization until 2002, when the law was changed to allow the government to take any land, not just white-owned farmland.
John Worsley-Worswick heads the advocacy group, Justice for Agriculture. He says the ruling ZANU-PF party has nearly finished taking all white-owned farms and so now has had to move to urban areas. He says Gletwyn was an obvious target, as it is well developed.
"It's the first full wholesale attack on a huge tract of land that is already in the city limits, it goes beyond chaos. It's not a default anarchy, it's by design," he said. "The party have designed this anarchy to be exactly what it is today."
Ian Ross went to court again Friday, seeking an order restraining police from further intimidating or evicting workers on Gletwyn. He says the application succeeded but he adds he is not at all certain he will be able to remain at his home.