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Zimbabwe Land Reform Conflict Between Government, Farmers Continues - 2003-04-07


Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers' Union is denying government claims that its controversial land reform program has ended.

Union president Colin Cloete says he sent a two-page document to the government outlining steps that have to be taken to resolve the ongoing crisis over agricultural productivity, and the land reform program.

He said the rule of law must return to the program, land tenure must be sorted out, and the viability of Zimbabwe's commercial agriculture must be re-established.

The document is a response to a draft memorandum of understanding presented by the government to the Union as part of a series of meetings at the beginning of the year. This was the first time the two parties had met for nearly two years.

About three quarters of white commercial farmers have been evicted from their properties since President Robert Mugabe ordered the evictions in early 2000.

Mr. Cloete said his reply included allegations that remaining commercial farmers continue to be illegally evicted and harassed.

He also said the government's claim that it has completed the land reform program, by taking 11 million hectares of formerly white-owned land, is not true.

Mr. Cloete said there are many outstanding issues, such as ongoing litigation over seizures of land, and the matter of compensation, which he said has not been seriously addressed.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo responded in the government-controlled media by attacking the union, and saying its members are lawless. Mr. Moyo said the farmers supported the opposition in the national strike last month, and accused them of being behind political and social unrest.

This week a task force from the Southern African Development Community is meeting in Zimbabwe on the ongoing political and economic crisis. The farmers' union said it hopes to be able to present the task force with information about the state of agriculture.

The farmers union leader, Mr. Cloete, says production from commercial agriculture, the single largest foreign currency earner, has dropped between 60 and 80 percent since the often violent land reform program began three years ago.

Economists say the destruction of commercial agriculture is the single largest cause of Zimbabwe's deepening financial crisis.