Land reform turns to hut-burning orgy

DEVELOPMENTS on farms north-west of Harare in the past three weeks have exposed the other face of the Zanu PF government, or rather the more familiar one. Supporters who have been squatting on Little England an

d Inkomo farms were forcibly evicted after more than four years of occupation.

The farms were designated A2, they were told, so they had no business being there. Their contribution to the Third Chimurenga was over. Thank you and goodbye. As an incentive to relocate, their huts were burnt.

Torched in the early hours of the morning, not all managed to salvage their household belongings. Domestic animals such as cattle, goats and sheep were reportedly stolen as their owners were ferreted out of their huts well before dawn.

The result has been huts and other makeshift dwellings going up in plumes of smoke, and the displacement of settlers, most of whom can now be seen stranded along the Chirundu highway. Reports this week indicate that the fires are spreading and more settlers are being displaced.

Huts on at least 20 farms between Norton and Banket have been set ablaze so far and the scorched-earth campaign is not over. By Tuesday it had reached Doma and Mhangura.

These are farmers who were told to stay put on the land, notwithstanding that their plots were not properly pegged. The Zanu PF government even came up with the Rural Land Occupiers (Protection from Eviction) Act, which shielded the settlers from eviction by white farmers who had won court rulings.

It is labouring the point even to merely state that most of these people voted for Zanu PF in 2000 and 2002. Now most of them may not be able to vote next year because of the latest displacements. Many face starvation.

The evictions from Little England and Inkomo farms, making way for model A2 settlers, is intended to result in consolidated land holdings to correct the anomalies caused by Zanu PF’s fast-track land resettlement exercise.

But in correcting the anomalies four years down the line, government should assess the damage to the environment caused by farmers who were allowed to settle in wrong places.

The squatters being removed had cleared forests — completely altering the ecosystem in some areas, decimated game on farms, removed fences and vandalised water infrastructure.

The Zanu PF government will not be able to put right these huge depredations.

Then there is the humanitarian crisis the forced evictions have spawned. Hundreds of families were made to abandon their rural homes to push government’s agenda of driving all whites off commercial farms. Some of the settlers had invested millions in livestock and shelter only to be told to bring down everything overnight and go back to their original homes.

Cynics are bound to say the euphoria of correcting historical land holding patterns fooled many about what was essentially an election gimmick. Those so fooled should have known better than to trust Zanu PF to live up to its promises to empower the poor.

The sceptics certainly have a point. Like George Bush’s war in Iraq, it looks like land resettlement is far from over more than a year after President Mugabe pronounced fast-track occupations ended.

The chaos being created now means more disruptions to food production amid loud complaints about lack of seed, draught power, an uncertain rainy season and vandalised irrigation infrastructure. It looks like those who predicted that Zimbabwe would take up to 15 years to return to food self-sufficiency may have been over-optimistic.

Those being displaced today join the ranks of thousands of former farm workers whom they displaced themselves in the name of land reform. We have come full cycle and the big fish who have always been eating can now safely occupy all the choice farms without too much effort.

Those war veterans who tried to occupy Chief Fortune Charumbira’s farm in Masvingo know Zanu PF’s true colours. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you call yourself a war veteran or a Border Gezi graduate. Once Zanu PF has accomplished its mission it will discard you like a banana peel. Unfortunately it has used the same strategy since Independence without some people learning a thing.

It is pointless for government to now say that it wants to allocate land to those who have the resources to utilise it. That was the point made by those who warned of chaos. It was the point made at the 1998 donors’ conference about poverty alleviation with equity. Those who opposed the fast-track approach argued that large-scale commercial farms were being subdivided into subsistence plots when the country was in dire need of increased exports to aid economic recovery.

Needless to say such arguments were dismissed as unpatriotic and inspired by Tony Blair’s puppets keen to reverse land reform.

They were vindicated by the Utete audit, which exposed anomalies and inappropriate land use. Reversing the process is going to inflict considerable suffering on those villagers who never thought government would betray their trust nearly five years later. They should have listened more closely when Elliot Manyika sang in Nora that “Zanu deyekushupika”.

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