By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
21 May 2014
Hundreds of villagers invaded the Hippo Valley and Triangle sugar cane estates Monday, in a bid to force the government to allocate them plots on the plantations.
About 169 of the 600 villagers, among them war vets, have been arrested following the occupation, the State-run Herald newspaper said Tuesday.
South African firm Tongaat Hulett, which owns Triangle Limited and 50% of Hippo Valley Estates, says its operations have not been affected by the invasion.
Corporate affairs manager Adelaide Chikunguru-Musvovi said the matter is being dealt with appropriately by authorities and operations are continuing as normal.
The villagers are said to be the unhappy with what they view as a shifting of goalposts by the Masvingo provincial leadership.
Details are that in December 2012 around 143 villagers received offer letters from ex-governor Titus Maluleke promising them sugar cane plots on 4,000 hectares of land allegedly pledged by Tongaat.
But last week Provincial Affairs Minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti told the villagers that the offer letters had been improperly issued. This angered the villagers, who then invaded the sugar estate.
The Lands Ministry has said the offer letters are valid and that Tongaat will provide the land but added that it will not allow irregular land occupations.
The occupiers have said they will remain on the land until their grievances are met, and accuse the provincial leadership of insincerity.
Last year Bhasikiti himself promised chiefs in the province that he will make sure they receive cane plots before he leaves office in 2018.
There are suggestions that the Masvingo provincial leadership is pushing the government to expropriate at least 10,000 hectares from Tongaat for resettlement.
The sugar producing firm has already ceded almost 16,000 hectares of its land to private farmers.
Despite this, the Zim government is considering expropriating the sugar company’s farmlands, leaving it only with its milling operations, the SA M&G newspaper said recently.
Under a 2010 bilateral trade agreement between SA and Zimbabwe, Tongaat’s operations should be safe but the ruling ZANU PF party has on many occasions disregarded this and forcibly seized similarly protected land.
Economist Vince Musewe said the desperate situation prevailing in the country may force the ZANU PF government to respect Tongaat’s investment.
“They are desperately trying to re-engage the international community and this will mean showing some respect for other people’s property. No investor would want to come into the country if land invasions are ongoing. To the 600 villagers this is a lesson that ZANU PF can’t be trusted,” Musewe said.
In a related issue, in the eastern province of Mutare, 51 former farm workers are reportedly locked in a court battle with CIO agent Patrick Mukorera who wants to evict them from Claire farm.
The farm was forcibly taken from its owner Tiny van Rensberg in 2010 and since then, Mukokeri has been trying to kick the formers workers off the land.
The families are however resisting eviction and say if the government-sponsored land acquisitions were indeed about correcting colonial land imbalances, then they too are entitled to pieces of land, either on Claire Farm or elsewhere.
“These families have been on this farm since 1983 and have no other home. Unless they are settled elsewhere, evicting them will be a breach of their right to life, dignity and shelter,” their lawyer Passmore Nyakureba said Wednesday.
“If land acquisitions were indeed meant to redress inequalities in this sector surely the government will be disempowering these families and in the process contradicting itself,” the lawyer added.
Observers have often said that the ZANU PF’s chaotic land programme has largely benefited senior party officials who gave themselves multiple farms, while the majority of Zimbabweans have been excluded.