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Zimbabwe Farmers Decry Land Grab for First Lady's Game Park

Members of a family stand next to their grass-hut dwelling which was destroyed by the police at Manzou Farm in Mazoe, north of Harare, in Zimbabwe, Jan. 15, 2015.

Zimbabwe confirmed it is releasing wild game in an effort to push about 200 families off farmland where first lady Grace Mugabe wants to set up a new game park. But the families at Manzou farm insist they will stay on the land where they have lived for more than a decade.

Police destroyed their homes earlier this month, in the middle of the rainy season. Now the farmers are worried that zebras roaming around on their land are grazing their crops.

"But there is nothing we can do," lamented farmer Innocent Dube. "We have to check during the night if there are no zebras in the field. That means we are given a big task now. We work during the day; we have to wake up during the night to check in your fields. One of my friends down there his garden has been destroyed by those zebras."

Manzou farm is one of the places where the government settled black peasant farmers under its controversial land reform program. Starting in 2000, thousands of white farmers were forced off their land, sometimes at gunpoint. Officials said the program aimed to address imbalances left over from colonialism.

Now the government wants to displace some of the black farmers the program was meant to help.

“They moved in lawlessly. They are malcontents," accused Martin Dinha, government minister for the province under which Manzou Farm falls.

FILE - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe stands with his wife Grace, as they pose for a photo at State House in Harare.
FILE - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe stands with his wife Grace, as they pose for a photo at State House in Harare.

"People who have been influenced by the opposition party. But certainly that is government property. All land in Zimbabwe is government property. And any attempt to demonize the first lady is totally unacceptable," he said, adding that there is no going back on the issue.

According to Dinha, Grace Mugabe, just like any other Zimbabwean, has the right to own a game park. But some affected farmers are questioning why she has been able to acquire multiple properties when in theory, there is a one-man-one-farm policy under the land reform program.

However in Zimbabwe, the government owns all the land. To gain control of a property, a citizen must receive and accept an "offer letter" from the minister of lands - usually for a 99-year lease.

It is not yet clear whether the first lady has received such a letter for Manzou Farm, where she wants to set up her game park.

Observers noted that President Robert Mugabe's wife, has gained increasing power over the past six months. She recently became head of the women's league in Zimbabwe's ruling party, and was seen as instrumental in Vice President Joice Mujuru losing her position late last year.

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