The fast-track land acquisition programme is one such tool, which has been genetically modified by Zanu PF pseudo-political scientists to garner illusive votes. Land reform comes into sight as a revolutionary exercise that corrects a colonial wrong. The illusion is that revolutionaries are taking back stolen land by colonial settlers and their offspring and redistributing it to landless peasants.
Since Independence, Zanu PF has blatantly employed the tactic of land seizures and unlawful private property requisition from black political opponents and fellow nationalists to settle old scores and to disenfranchise powerful opposition figures. The first victims of farm evictions in independent Zimbabwe were black patriots.
Egregious examples of aggravated farm seizures occurred when in 1983, Dr Joshua Nkomo’s farms and private property were expropriated and he was evicted under spurious treason allegations. He had been the father of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, whilst on the other hand Mugabe had been an appointed functionary who caught the liberation struggle midstream.
In Marondera on February 14 1982, Mugabe told a Zanu PF crowd that: “Zapu had bought more than 25 farms and more than 30 business enterprises throughout the country. We have now established they were not genuine business enterprises, but places of hiding military weapons to start another war at an appropriate time. He was trying to overthrow my government. Zapu and its leader, Joshua Nkomo, were like a cobra in a house. The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head.”
Nkomo was subsequently accused and charged with treason for unlawfully trying to overthrow the government of Robert Mugabe. These incendiary political statements stoked the flames of hate and formed the basis of a sequence of well-choreographed campaign rhetoric that aroused intolerance toward the Ndebele, Zapu, and its former freedom fighters, Zipra. This mantra was effectively regurgitated on state-controlled media until the majority of Zimbabweans believed that Nkomo presented a clear and present danger to Zimbabwe’s sovereignty.
This was the precursor for Gukurahundi, the massacre of 20 000 people in Matabeleland by the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade.
Mugabe invoked the draconian colonial-era law and the farms were confiscated under the notorious Unlawful Organisations Act, which was enacted by settler regimes to suppress liberation organisations. Home Affairs minister Hebert Ushewokunze enthusiastically instructed the loyal police to dispossess land from Joshua Nkomo personally. Collectively Nkomo, Zapu and Zipra guerrillas’ land that was wrongfully stolen by Zanu PF and Mugabe include the following properties:
Ascot Farm, Solusi; Hampton Farm, Gweru; Woody Glen Farm, Umguza; Nest Egg Farm, Gweru. Nijo Farm, Harare now belongs to Arda and Snake Park and Salisbury Hotel became government-training centres.
In 1992 Mugabe reiterated that no compensation would be paid to victims of the Matabeleland crisis because atrocities were committed “during a state of war.” At Nkomo’s funeral in 1999, Mugabe came close to showing remorse and admitting culpability for Gukurahundi by referring to the massacres as a “moment of madness’’. In September 2006, Nathan Shamuyarira, who served as Information minister during the Fifth Brigade operations, is reported to have told a conference on national reconciliation in Vumba: “No, I don’t regret. They were doing a job to protect the people.”
In August 1963 Ndabaningi Sithole founded the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) and in 1964 he appointed Mugabe to be his secretary-general. Mugabe competed for the presidency of Zanu during its early days, and his rivalry with Sithole intensified when Mugabe took over the party in 1976.
In the 1990s, Ndabaningi Sithole argued that land should be re-distributed to black people and that all black people should be given equal opportunity to access the land. The response from Zanu PF, through the sharp tongue of its eloquent spokesperson Eddison Zvobgo, was swift. He ridiculed him for wishful thinking and called him “mad”, further commenting that Zanu PF would need to colonise Zambia to achieve what Sithole was talking about. This compelled Sithole to show his leadership resolve and resettle landless people on his private Churu Farm on the outskirts of Harare.
The government first accused Sithole of not owning the farm, which he had bought in 1979. Later in 1992, through Health minister Timothy Stamps, government declared Churu farm a health hazard that would pollute Lake Chivero. Despite obtaining a High Court injunction that clearly stated: “The Land Acquisition Act was being used as a punitive measure and political weapon,” Zanu PF went ahead and forcibly removed 4 000 landless residents from Sithole’s Churu farm. The government did not make provisions for their alternative settlement.
The late Vice President Joseph Msika, then Local Government Rural and Urban Development minister, said Churu farm residents should “go and join their homeless colleagues in the streets” and then apply to his ministry for aid.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police evicted the remaining 1 600 residents of Churu and resettled them at a camp formerly used by Mozambican refugees.
Sithole was being punished amongst other things, for the following statement, which he made in parliament: “I move that in view of the failure of the present government to run the country to the satisfaction of the majority of the people of this land and in view of the social crisis which is building up, this House of elected representatives of the people of Zimbabwe passes a vote of no confidence in the present government.
“This reveals the true nature of the Zanu PF-led government, notably its hypocrisy, callousness and a lamentable lack of a keen sense of justice and an abominable deficiency of what is right and what is wrong, a government that is not fit to rule.”
In December 1997, Sithole was found guilty on all three charges of committing acts of terrorism, illegal possession of arms and conspiring to assassinate Mugabe. High Court Judge Justice Chatikobo, sitting with two assessors, convicted him. He denied the charges and appealed against the conviction.
He was granted the right to appeal, but no appeal was filed and the case was set aside as his health deteriorated.
In July 1993 Mugabe said: “We will not brook any decision by any court from acquiring any land. We will get land we want from anyone, be they black or white, and we will not be restricted to acquiring under-utilised land.”
James Chikerema, co-founder of Zapu and one of Zimbabwe’s first trained guerillas had his property –– Diana Farm –– designated and included for compulsory acquisition without compensation in 2000. He said, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s Mugabe’s vendetta against me.”
Enock Dumbutshena, Zimbabwe’s first black judge, became independent Zimbabwe’s first black Chief Justice, and was a respected jurist who fearlessly ruled against the government. He later lost his horticultural property.
When land was being taken away from the blacks, most Zimbabweans ignored the injustices, reducing it to quarrels between political foes. The international community responded with deafening silence while proponents of private property rights remained indifferent.
Once there were no more opposing political voices with land to confiscate, Mugabe moved on to white farmers, using the excuse to right a colonial wrong. Regrettably, he targeted agricultural entrepreneurs, the majority of whom had bought farms on the market in post Independence Zimbabwe.
Most farmers, encouraged by Mugabe whose government issued “certificates of no present interest”, invested in horticulture, irrigation and farm infrastructure.
Zanu PF targets for attack and destruction any group of persons or individuals it deems economically independent.
Minorities are vulnerable, easy targets because of their skin colour, their language and culture. The post-Independence land issue has never been a black or white issue –– it has been political from the beginning. After all black political opponents’ land had been grabbed, they were imprisoned or mysteriously died. Mugabe moved on to white farmers, shifting his reasoning to righting a colonial wrong. All along, it has been Mugabe spinning the dogma to mollify sycophantic followers whilst rewarding associates on self-enrichment exploits.
l Matibe is a political commentator.
By Phil Matibe