GOVERNMENT is forcibly acquiring agricultural equipment stored in warehouses from dispossessed white farmers as it steps up efforts to equip farms earmarked for the command agriculture schem
e, “Operation Maguta”.
Legal sources said government this week wrote letters to farmers’ lawyers stating it would be acquiring the equipment in accordance with Section 7 of the Acquisition of Farm Equipment and Material Act promulgated in September last year.
The Act says “the acquiring authority may, if there is no agreement for the purchase of the farm equipment or material concerned, acquire the farm equipment by making an order compulsorily acquiring the equipment for compensation equivalent to the value placed on the material by the designated valuation officer”.
A lawyer representing a group of affected farmers, David Drury, confirmed attempts to seize the farming equipment removed from farms but said government was not following the provisions of the Act.
“In the numerous cases I have dealt with, government is found to be in violation of its own laws,” Drury said.
“The Act requires government to prove that the equipment is lying idle before preparing an inventory and the owner could agree or refuse to sell. In case of disagreement, a preliminary notice to acquire is issued and this can be challenged. When the owner contests then government would have to apply to the Administrative Court for an order confirming the acquisition but government has not complied with the law.”
President Robert Mugabe this week said government would execute Operation “Food Security/Maguta/Inala” to enhance agricultural production and meet national food requirements.
The Zimbabwe Defence Forces have been mobilised to operate farms selected to grow maize under the operation. Government has been seizing farm equipment from properties in the Lowveld.
Mugabe said the major objectives of the operation are to boost the country’s food security and consolidate national strategic reserves.
Zimbabwe requires 1,8 million tonnes of grain for national consumption annually and a further 500 000 tonnes as strategic grain reserves.
Compulsorily acquiring farm equipment from farmers whose farmland was expropriated comes at a time when President Mugabe has admitted to UN envoy Jan Egeland that Zimbabwe needed food aid. Egeland said the UN had requested US$276 million to lessen the deteriorating food, health and agricultural situation in Zimbabwe.
He said the UN, through the World Food Programme, would be feeding more than three million people by February next year in Zimbabwe. The country’s agricultural output has fallen by over 70% in the past five years.
“We are eager to help Zimbabwe regain food security and I hope we can have some kind of task force that can focus immediately on that,” Egeland said.