Zimbabwe police boss evicts farmer to build houses for officers

HARARE - Zimbabwe Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri has ordered a white farmer to close down his agro-export business because the police want to use the farmland to build low cost houses for its officers, ZimOnline has learnt.

The move to shut down Gletwin farm, which trades as Ross and Sons and is located near Harare's posh northern suburb of Glen Lorne, comes barely a fortnight after Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono wrote to President Robert Mugabe pleading with him to stop fresh farm seizures.

In his letter to Mugabe, a copy of which was shown to ZimOnline, Gono said that Zimbabwe, which is already grappling severe food shortages, could next year face an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe unless the few remaining white farmers in the country and newly resettled black farmers were allowed to grow food this farming season.

But State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, who is in charge of land redistribution, yesterday vehemently defended the seizure of Gletwin farm and called ZimOnline reporters "insane" for questioning the government's decision to take the farm in order to build houses for police officers on the land.

"You would have to be insane to be worried that we are taking over a farm from a white man to build accommodation for our law enforcers," Mutasa said.

Gletwin farm, owned by Ian Ross, employs hundreds of permanent and seasonal workers who will now have to join more than 300 000 other former farm workers now jobless after their former white employers were chased from the land by the government under its controversial land reform programme. This, in a country where more than 70 percent of potential labour is unemployed.

The farm grows mainly potatoes for the local and export markets and in the process generating hard currency in critical short supply in Zimbabwe.

Ross said he had already been told by Chihuri to vacate the farm but said he was still waiting for a written order before deciding on his next course of action.

"There has been nothing in writing yet. It has been verbal but I will have to get something in writing," said Ross, who would not be drawn to divulge further details on the matter.

But the white farmer has little options after the government controversially changed Zimbabwe's constitution last August to bar white farmers from challenging in court the seizure of the farms by the state, while courts were also prohibited from entertaining such applications from farmers.

Powerful officials of Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party and government as well as top army and police officers have since the amendment of the constitution launched a fresh wave of farm seizures across the country.

Many in Zimbabwe's ruling elite already own more than three or four farms seized from whites in flagrant violation of the government's publicly stated policy of one-man-one-farm.

In his letter Gono clearly urged Mugabe to personally intervene and stop his ministers, service chiefs and senior officials of ZANU PF from seizing farms, saying continued disruptions on farms could see the agricultural sector, the fulcrum of the economy, collapsing beyond redemption.

ZimOnline has as yet been unable to establish how Mugabe reacted to the letter by Gono, a close lieutenant he has tasked to lead efforts to revive Zimbabwe's crumbling economy.

But farm invasions have continued unabated since Gono's letter.

Zimbabwe has faced chronic food shortages since 2000 when Mugabe began grabbing productive farmland from whites to resettle landless blacks.

The United Nations says an estimated three million people or about a quarter of the 12 million Zimbabweans require food aid between now and the next harvest around March/April 2006 or they will starve.