Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Police evict new farmers, burn houses

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

HARARE, 23 September (IRIN) - The Zimbabwe government has offered to assist hundreds of families evicted by the police last week from a farm they had occupied under the land reform programme, just outside the capital, Harare.

Minister of Social Welfare Paul Mangwana told IRIN that those in need of government aid should visit their nearest social welfare offices for assistance.

Armed soldiers and police had last week ordered more than 600 families to leave Little England farm and set fire to some of their homes, because the land had reportedly been earmarked for a large-scale commercial farming venture. Many of the displaced, who claimed they had been awarded six-hectare plots on the farm by the government in 2000, were this week still camped by the roadside.

Political commentator and sociologist Gordon Chavhunduka alleged the incident at Little England farm was symptomatic of wider problems associated with the government's controversial land reform programme.

"People are still hungry for land. The issue of land still causes tension, whether between blacks and whites or among blacks. It looks like land reform was never meant to benefit the ordinary person, and that is why the ordinary people are having their houses set on fire. The land reform was only meant to benefit a few special individuals, and that may lay the ground for future conflicts," Chavhunduka told IRIN.

When the land invasions began in 2000, the government warned people against building permanent structures, saying that the possibility of being moved to other farms was high. While many occupants have remained on the land they originally settled, others, who took over farms in Export Processing Zones, or those reportedly eyed by influential Zimbabweans, have allegedly been removed.

One of the people displaced from Little England, an elderly woman who identified herself as Ambuya Tinarwo, told IRIN she was the sole custodian of eight orphaned grandchildren. She had moved to the farm from Harare in 2000 because she could not afford to pay her rent.

"I have nowhere else to go with my grandchildren and we will remain by the roadside until the government provides us with an alternative place to settle," she said. "We had prepared our fields for planting, but our eviction means we will not have food next year and, if the rains start falling, then we will be exposed to extreme wet weather."

Mangwana said none of the evictees would be allowed to suffer. "My ministry is responsible for dealing with all cases of destitution, regardless of circumstances leading to their position. I cannot say to you what plans we have in place, but all those who were affected at Little England should go to the Zvimba district social welfare offices, where they will receive the necessary assistance."

However, Chavhunduka questioned the capacity of the authorities to assist: "They don't have enough money to look after those people. Where will they get the money?"

The evicted settlers find themselves with few organisations willing to assist them. The secretary general of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, Gertrude Hambira, said her union could not offer assistance, as the settlers were not union members.

The NGO, the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe, said they could not help - their target group was farm workers, the vast majority of whom lost their jobs in the land reform process.

[ENDS]

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