QUITE how the ruling Zanu PF ruling elite perfected the art of using and discarding its supporters when it suits them is amazing.
stify>The recent repeal of the Rural Land Occupiers (Protection from Eviction) Act (Chapter 20:26) No 13 of 2001, that retracted protection from peasants trespassing on state land, is one instance of what has become Zanu PF’s use-and-abuse pastime.
The law was replaced by the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act of 2006 which makes it illegal and “punishable by law to hold, use or occupy a piece of land that was gazetted for resettlement purposes without authority in the form of an offer letter”.
“This means that no one will claim protection under the said Act any longer,” President Mugabe declared last week at a ceremony marking the issue of 99-year leases to selected beneficiaries and driving the final nail into illegal land occupation.
The new Act is a double-edge sword meant to cow commercial farmers from resisting eviction while empowering government to dislodge farm invaders without offer letters as the tragicomedy of the inconclusive land reform unfolds.
A rented placard-carrying crowd appeared stunned by Mugabe’s announcement that portends a fresh wave of evictions and further dislocations.
At Mugabe’s behest, peasants began moving onto commercial farmland in February 2000. The often-violent and chaotic land occupation stampede cost an estimated 32 lives, mostly white commercial farmers and perceived opposition supporters.
The Rural Land Occupiers Act (Protection from Eviction) Act was railroaded as a populist expedient after armed soldiers and police forced more than 600 families to leave Little England Farm in Mashonaland West by torching their homes, because the land had reportedly been earmarked for a large-scale commercial farming venture.
Many of the displaced who claimed they had been awarded plots on the farm by the government in 2000 were abandoned on the roadside.
If the jubilant crowd that graced the occasion to issue 99-year leases had asked villagers in rural Svosve how skillful Zanu PF is at disposing of those that have served its purpose, they would have been more prudent in their celebrations.
Or better still they could have sought wise counsel from drum-beating Zanu PF militants who stormed the High Court exactly five years ago, in support of Samuel Mhuriro’s class action on behalf of peasants trespassing on all commercial farms.
When the hearing was eventually held, the court reaffirmed its ruling that the government land seizures violated the law.
The ruling overturned an order by then High Court judge, Godfrey Chidyausiku, for police not to remove illegal settlers from the farms until the courts heard an application by Mhuriro and 16 others who had argued that his constitutional right to white-owned land overrode the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling.
Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay struck down Chidyausiku’s ruling questioning his jurisdiction to override the higher court.
But government officials ignored that ruling and moved thousands of peasants onto the farms.
Better still, they could learn a lesson from families that initially occupied Eirene Farm in Marondera.
Airforce Marshal Perence Shiri was allocated Eirene Farm at the expense of 96 families who had initially taken over the farm and banished them to a cattle ranch unfit for agricultural purposes.
They could have listened to Professor Gordon Chavunduka who noted: “It looks like land reform was never meant to benefit the ordinary person, and that is why the ordinary people are having their houses set on fire.
“The land reform was only meant to benefit a few special individuals, and that may lay the ground for future conflicts,” Chavhunduka said.
Peasant farmers are not the only unwitting victims of Zanu PF’s proneness to the use-and-toss-away trick.
War veteran Joseph Chinotimba, who stole the limelight as a champion of black empowerment through factory invasions after wreaking havoc on the farms, knows better.
When it suited the ruling elite, Chinotimba assumed hero status. But when the bearded independence war participant allowed his ambitions to get the better of him, Zanu PF invoked its use-and-toss trick.
Other victims of the discarding sleight of hand by Zanu PF has been youth brigades — the party’s coercing agents of the early 80s — who were used for crowd control during the height of Mugabe’s popularity.
Thousands of them have gone through a process of disillusionment through years of being convenient tools of the ruling party without a guarantee for a betterment of their lives. Long periods of joblessness have taken a toll on the youths who now see no profit in only being recognised when Zanu PF deems it convenient.
For all their years of trouble at the government’s beck and call, Zanu PF has seen it fit to herd them into the less-edifying youth training centres to dust up their sense of patriotism.
Scores had their hopes shattered when Zanu PF reneged on its promises of jobs in the civil service that never came about.