By Tererai Karimakwenda
SW Radio Africa
22 May 2014
Chaos has been reported in the Chiredzi lowveld area of Masvingo, after an angry crowd of over 600 villagers occupied sugar cane plantations on Monday and demanded that government allocate them plots that they were promised in offer letters, received back in December 2012.
At least 169 of the protesters, most of them war vets, were reportedly arrested by police after refusing to vacate the plantations on Hippo Valley and Triangle Estates, which are run by the giant sugar company Tongaat Hulett.
The group appeared at the Chiredzi Magistrates Court Wednesday, where they are reported to have defied heavy police presence and started singing and dancing before their remand hearing. The independent Newsday newspaper said they also accused the ZANU PF provincial leadership of conniving with Tongaat Hulett.
The group were remanded in custody to Thursday and Friday. But a student, believed to be 17 years old and who was among the invaders, was set free due to his age. We were unable to establish what happened in court Thursday.
The chaotic nature of ZANU PF’s land distribution policy was again highlighted by this incident, as officials offered conflicting statements about the legality of the offer letters that the villagers were given by former governor Titus Maluleke.
Chiredzi farmer Gerry Whitehead, who passed by the Magistrates Court Thursday, said there were several 7 tonne police trucks and over 150 protesters outside.
“Even if the offer letters are legal, somehow we have got to bring back law and order. If we don’t we will never get anywhere. These invasions have gone beyond Triangle and Hippo and spread into the Conservancies. It’s got to stop and it seems that somebody has just put their foot down,” Whitehead told SW Radio Africa.
He said accusations that Tongaat had connived with ZANU PF to invalidate the offer letters have much merit, as the sugar giant has established close ties with the ruling elite and financed their candidates in the last election. This is how the sugar company had survived the chaotic land grabs.
According to the state run Herald newspaper, Masvingo’s Provincial Affairs Minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti has insisted that offer letters issued to the villagers by Maluleke were done “improperly” and had therefore been cancelled.
But the Lands Minister, Douglas Mombeshora, reportedly dismissed the claim on Wednesday, saying: “The offer letters in question are still valid and the beneficiaries will be allocated their land after it has been cleared by Tongaat Hulett as per agreement with government.”
To add to the confusion, Tongaat has reportedly not yet cleared the land in question. Led by Francis Nando, chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, the villagers have allegedly refused to vacate the plantations and insist the arrests will not deter them.
The Herald said Nando accused the ZANU PF political leadership of being “insincere” when it came to the redistribution of sugar cane plots. He is quoted as saying: “The political leadership is protecting Tongaat Hulett for reasons best known to themselves.”
Pressure is intensifying countrywide for the ZANU PF government to make good on promises they made during the 2013 election campaigns, especially the promise to create over 2 million jobs.
Frustration with the party’s failure to provide plots of land, promised to youth supporters in Chitungwiza, saw hundreds of them converge on the Council headquarters last week, demanding that Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo address their grievances.