Land Grab Precipitates Famine: Zimbabwe's President Is Seizing Farms without Compensation and Turning Them over to His Relatives and Political Cronies. (Africa)

By Blomfield, Adrian | Insight on the News, September 23, 2002 | Go to article overview

Land Grab Precipitates Famine: Zimbabwe's President Is Seizing Farms without Compensation and Turning Them over to His Relatives and Political Cronies. (Africa)


Blomfield, Adrian, Insight on the News


Grace Mugabe turned up at John and Eva Matthews' farm north of Harare, one of at least 190 white-owned farms that are being handed over to relatives and close associates of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. "I'm taking over this farm," declared the president's wife, surrounded by a coterie of government officials, senior army officers and young thugs from her husband's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

To press home the point, the police arrested 78-year-old John Matthews. "I was told I had 48 hours to get off the farm and, if they found me here after that, they would lock me up straight away," John Matthews said as he loaded his furniture onto the back of a truck.

At a Washington news conference, Walter Kansteiner, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, rejected Mugabe as the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe and called on Zimbabweans to "correct the situation." The implicit call by a high U.S. official for yet another regime change came during a meeting on food aid to southern Africa.

It is not hard to see why Grace Mugabe had her eye on the 3,000-acre Iron Mask farm. Tucked into a valley between two dramatic hills, Iron Mask, founded by Era Matthews and her first husband in 1967, is one of the most beautiful farms in the Mazowe area. The house has oak-paneled interiors, sloping roofs and a commanding view. Pretty cottages on the grounds and two swimming pools add to the attraction. It is understood that Grace Mugabe intends to settle her relatives on the farm.

President Mugabe's land-redistribution policy was meant to deliver white-owned farms into the hands of millions of landless blacks, but many of the choice properties instead are going to his friends and relatives. A list, by no means exhaustive, has been compiled by Insight's sister publication, the Washington Times, from information provided by the Commercial Farmers Union and the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture, among other sources. It shows that at least 190 senior politicians, businessmen and members of the armed forces close to President Mugabe have been allocated farms. Many have been given several farms; one senior member of ZANU-PF has been allocated seven.

Among the beneficiaries are two of President Mugabe's sisters, his brother-in-law and his wife's nephew. Zimbabwe's two vice presidents, Joseph Msika and Simon Muzenda, both have been rewarded, the latter with two farms. The outgoing and much-feared head of the shadowy Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), Elisha Muzonzini, has been given the farm of white opposition lawmaker Roy Bennet.

At least 16 of President Mugabe's ministers and members of his all-powerful politburo also have been allocated land. Others who have benefitted include the senior government officials in charge of distributing the farms. Christopher Chingosho, the provincial lands chairman, has been given six.

In Washington, Andrew Natsios, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, sharply criticized the reallocation of white-owned farms to Mugabe relatives. "So they're not exactly turning these over to poor people," Natsios told reporters Aug. 21. "It's a disgusting grab."

During the last few days more than 150 white farmers have been arrested and detained. They were charged with obstructing the Land Redistribution Act by ignoring an Aug. 10 deadline ordering 2,900 white farmers to leave their lands.

Most farmers have challenged the constitutionality of the evictions in the courts, and a landmark legal judgment recently ruled that the vast majority of the evictions are illegal. Despite the rulings, police invaded Bennet's farm during a weekend and arrested and tortured 10 black security guards on his farm. They were taken for questioning at Muzonzini's CIO headquarters, according to the farm group Justice for Agriculture.

Since February 2000, ZANU-PF youths, describing themselves as veterans from the 1970s struggle against minority rule, have enforced President Mugabe's land-reform policies violently, killing 12 white farmers and many more of their black farmworkers. …

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