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Comment: Sanity Needed on Farms

ZIMBABWE needs to firmly restore and adhere to the rule of law. About this there can be no debate in the long-term. People need to feel safe in their own country at all times. It is also good for business.

We are however getting worried about how this process can be achieved since the installation of the inclusive government comprising Zanu PF and the two MDC formations.

It would appear that the MDC-T, and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in particular, is under immense pressure from importunate “stakeholders” to meet certain unrealistic expectations as a way of “proving and demonstrating” that he has, not just responsibility but authority as well in the new administration.

He must show that he is “in charge”, that he has “authority”.

In the past few weeks there has been agitation for the MDC or Tsvangirai to do something about political detainees, restoration of the rule of law and renewed farm “invasions”.

There is in fact competition among the “stakeholders” to set the agenda for the MDC and Tsvangirai to justify, if not to prove, that they did not make a big mistake in joining the inclusive government.

Tsvangirai will need to rise above this misguided herd instinct. It is instructive that the increase in farm “invasions” occurs at a time Tsvangirai has been accused of “capitulating” in the fight for total power, and not during the negotiations.

This is meant to buttress a “third force” theory about people in Zanu PF who want to sabotage the inclusive government.

We can only feel sorry for Tsvangirai. We understand his dilemma. While he understands the requirements of the law that those who have been arrested must follow due process, there are many who are opposed to the transitional government who still view him as an opposition leader fighting the government in the streets.

To such constituents, we can offer a short message. Tsvangirai cannot order the release of people who have been detained by the police without interfering with the administration of justice and assuming dictatorial powers. The law is an ass.

Co-Home Affairs minister Giles Mutsekwa explained this issue in an online interview this week when he said the law would be allowed to take its course regarding those MDC-T supporters still detained or who are out on bail. Similarly, he said it would be wrong for the police to arrest those who claimed ownership of certain farms unless and until it was proved that their offer letters were fake.

To us both Tsvangirai and Mutsekwa have adopted a more constructive approach against the public posturing demanded by “stakeholders”.

We believe the way forward, instead of fruitless belligerence and confrontation by those pushing other agendas, is for Tsvangirai to build a “consensus” with President Mugabe, the Council of Ministers and Cabinet on how to deal politically with the issue of political detainees.

The same applies to the issue of renewed farm invasions.

They need to agree on how to deal with those still detained as required under the global political agreement.

Nothing positive will be achieved by activists and foreigners telling us they want political prisoners released before aid, and Mugabe telling them “we have no political prisoners”.

Who defines a political prisoner? The land reform process also needs to be finally resolved. This calls for honesty among ourselves on key issues.

How many white commercial farmers remain on their farms; what is the scale of productivity? How many farms have been taken over since 2000?

Who occupies which farm and what is happening on the farm? What is the status of the new farm claimants and how many of their “offer letters” are genuine?

There is no point in entertaining somebody who produces today an offer letter issued in 2003 and he still hasn’t staked his claim.

Such a claim should be invalidated and this requires a political consensus, not police action. The land reform programme cannot be reduced to a matter of partisan policing.

The resolution of these questions requires a moratorium on new farm claims and occupations. The leaders can decide how long this moratorium is going to be but it should be enough to verify the authenticity of some “offer letters”, the rate of take up on the farms and the level of productivity by both resettled farmers and white commercial farmers still on the land.

There is a strong belief that there are enough unproductive farms already occupied which can be reallocated to those who are qualified and have a desire to farm.

We don’t believe there is a political party which benefits from current claims of disturbances on the farms at a time when there are food shortages. We need sanity back on the farms.

There is no question that those who are found to have used fraudulent “offer letters” should be prosecuted.

The same applies to those who have abused free government inputs for the past nine years. Those who have failed to produce should be kicked out.

As Mugabe said long back, farms which were once productive cannot be reduced to “weekend braai resorts” while the nation starves. It is time we see action overtake rhetoric on that front.

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