Judge, businessman claim part of Zim dairy farm

A High Court judge and a businessman have claimed part of a Danish-owned farm south of Harare, the owners said on Wednesday, part of a stepped-up drive to seize white-owned land for black Zimbabweans.

Judge Tendai Bunhu and businessman George Manhiwa arrived on Monday at o

ne of Zimbabwe’s most productive dairy farms accompanied by police, district officials and supporters who besieged a homestead and disrupted cattle feeding, said the property’s director, Mads Kirk.

Manhiwa, a former military officer armed with a government-issued seizure notice, gave Kirk seven days to vacate 500ha of land owned by his Red Dane Dairy company.

“We want to be good neighbours — unless you choose otherwise,” Kirk quoted Manhiwa as saying.

At least 5 000 white-owned farms have been seized since 2000 in an often-violent campaign that has disrupted the agriculture-based economy in Zimbabwe, once a regional breadbasket. More than four million of the 12-million population are now in urgent need of food, according to United Nations figures.

Last month, central bank Governor Gideon Gono urged a halt to seizures of productive farms, saying some have become little more than “weekend picnic venues” for the urban elite.

But farmers say seizures have instead picked up after a recent lull.

About 60 white farmers have been driven off their land in the past three months, leaving less than 250 running productive enterprises, said John Worsely-Worswick, head of the Justice for Agriculture farmers’ support group.

“Losing 60 is a big knock at a time of food shortages and an impending humanitarian disaster,” he said.

Half of the country’s judges and other senior judicial officials have been allocated prime farms under the redistribution drive, according to a tally by Worsely-Worswick’s group.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku argues judiciary members are as entitled as anyone else to land. But independent lawyers allege the farms were given out as inducements to the largely pro-government judiciary.

A stalemate persisted on Wednesday at Kirk’s dairy, with at least four occupiers still on the property near Beatrice, about 60km south of the capital, Harare.

The company has appealed to the provincial governor to intervene, saying the property is protected by an investment agreement between Zimbabwe and Denmark.

“This is highly productive land critical to our operations,” said Kirk, whose company also owns three adjacent properties producing corn, tobacco and beef.

The agriculture ministry backed down in a previous attempt to claim the dairy, which produces nearly 9 000 litres of milk a day. — Sapa/AP

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