Thursday, January 21, 2010

Zimbabwe Unity government under fire for not intervening on land invasions

By Alex Bell - 21 January 2010

The unity government has come under fire this week for not intervening to stop the ongoing wave of farm invasions, which are threatening to further destroy the agricultural sector.

The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) and the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) have both lashed out at the unity structure over the lack of action on the land attacks, which in the past year alone have seen the forced seizure of more than 150 farms. The attacks since February 2009 have also made more than 60 000 people homeless and destitute. With food production virtually halted as a result of the invasions, a further 2 million people are set to face hunger in the coming months.

CFU president Deon Theron told SW Radio Africa that his organisation ‘deplores’ the government’s failure to stop what he called ‘a few extremists’ from violently threatening, harassing and forcibly evicting farmers and their workers. These ongoing acts of lawlessness have been epitomised by violence against farmers and their workers, with complete impunity. Local police have refused to assist farmers, labelling the land attacks a ‘political’ issue. Theron explained that the attacks “violate the basic principles enunciated in the Global Political Agreement (GPA).”

“What commercial farmers and their workers are being subjected to constitute crimes against humanity. It is time for the GNU to take a principled stand in this regard,” Theron said.

Theron also emphasised that no foreign investment, crucial for the rebuilding process in Zimbabwe to begin, will be forthcoming until the rule of law and property rights are respected. He said the bilateral investment pacts continue to be ignored, along with court orders and regional land rulings meant to offer farmers protection from invasion. This includes the most recent eviction of a number of South African farming families in Rusape, evictions that came mere weeks after an investment pact between the two countries was signed.

GAPWUZ has also called for the land attacks to ‘urgently’ come to an end, highlighting the often forgotten plight of farm workers in the country. Last year GAPWUZ produced a documentary detailing how workers have been brutalised, raped, tortured, and beaten during the so called land ‘reform’ exercise that began in 2000. They explained how 60% of workers had been tortured and forced to leave farms that were their homes as a result of ‘land reform’. Farmers, who kept in contact with their staff, also reported that 40% of workers had died since being evicted from their farms. These brutalities have continued, and GAPWUZ say this situation is not being addressed by the unity government in any way.

“What further incenses us is the silence of government officials whom we feel should be there to put a stop to such heinous acts which have left thousands of farm workers homeless and in dire need of food, education, water and sanitation,” GAPWUZ Secretary General Gertrude Hambira said.

The government’s refusal to act on the land attacks has angered the farming community, who have appealed time and time again for assistance from the unity structure meant to usher in change in Zimbabwe. But government officials have previously dismissed the land attacks, with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai last year calling them ‘isolated incidents’ that were blown out of proportion by the media.

Tsvangirai has also ignored personal, written requests to intervene, made by a farming family in Chegutu whose homestead was burnt to the ground by land invaders last year. Ben Freeth and his family lost everything in the fire that destroyed their home and the homes of some of their workers. Their problems on Mount Carmel farm, created by invaders working for top ZANU PF official Nathan Shamuyarira, led to Freeth and his parents in-law being brutally beaten in 2008.

The family made history by taking the government to the human rights court of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) over the land attacks. Their court battle, which they eventually won and which also ruled that the land reform program was unlawful, is at the heart of a documentary currently being shown all around the world. The film, Mugabe and the White African, is being tipped for success in international arenas, so far being nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award. The film is also set to be nominated for a prestigious Academy Award.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai ignored 5 letters written personally by Freeth over the past year, begging for his intervention. But it would appear that growing pressure might be starting to convince Tsvangirai to take some form of action. The Prime Minister is said to be ‘particularly concerned’ about the ongoing wave of farm invasions across the country, so much so that he is set to raise the issue with the co-ministers of Home Affairs this week.

The MDC leader is expected to raise the land attacks with co-ministers Kembo Mohadi and Giles Mutsekwa, as well as Lands Minister Herbert Murerwa. Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s office, Gorden Moyo, said this week that Tsvangirai is having consultations with all ministers about their portfolios, adding that the continuing and often violent farm takeovers are of ‘particular concern’ to him.