Zimbabwe's new land barons

News and Press Release
Originally published
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by ZimOnline Investigations Team

HARARE -- President Robert Mugabe, his loyalists in ZANU-PF, cabinet ministers, senior army and government officials and judges now own nearly 5 million hectares of agricultural land, including wildlife conservancies and plantation land, seized from white commercial farmers since 2000, investigations by ZimOnline have revealed.

This means that a new well-connected black elite of about 2 200 people now control close to half of the most profitable land seized from about 4 100 commercial farmers.

Even though Mugabe has consistently maintained that his land reform programme is meant to benefit the poor black masses, it is him and his cronies who have got the most out of it, according to our three month long investigations.

ZimOnline can conclusively state that Mugabe and his second wife Grace, now own 14 farms, worth at least 16 000 hectares in size.

All ministers from Mugabe's ZANU PF in Zimbabwe's coalition government and ZANU PF deputy ministers are multiple farm owners. That probably explains why Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's determined push to have a new land audit done to uncover multiple farm owners has persistently hit a brickwall.

Mugabe's deputy Joyce Mujuru, alongside his influential husband, former army general Solomon Mujuru, and their relatives, own at least 25 farms with a combined hectarage of more than 105 000.

Critics who have consistently dismissed Zimbabwe's emotional land reforms as a political patronage programme by the octogenarian Mugabe to reward supporters who have kept him in power are right after all.

But the veteran leader insists the programme is meant to redress colonial imbalances and benefited the povo. Mugabe, whose agrarian reforms have been criticised by the West, says some 300,000 people have benefitted from the programme.

However, investigations by ZimOnline have shown that while at least 150,000 ordinary people may have had access to farms, the majority own between 10 and 50 hectares each after some of the huge farms were subdivided into small plots. But these ordinary people only accessed land on the strengths of their ZANU PF party membership cards.

With the notable exception of Welshman Ncube, the secretary-general of a small splinter faction of the MDC, no high profile civil society and MDC officials have benefited from the land seizures.

But some 2,200 well connected people - Mugabe, his wife Grace, their top allies, friends and relatives -- have parcelled among themselves choice farms spanning from 250 hectares to as much as 4,000 hectares in the most fertile farming regions in the country, in clear violation of the government's own policy of capping farm sizes.

Land the size of Slovakia

Government documents and investigations show that Mugabe and his top allies control nearly 40 percent of the 14 million hectares of land seized from white-owned farms, which if put together are the size of Slovakia, with a population of 5.4 million people.

Before 2000, the 4,500 members of the largely white Commercial Farmers' Union and another 1,500 unaffiliated white farmers owned close to 15 million hectares of Zimbabwe's most arable land and wildlife conservancies.

A decade later, less than 400 white farmers remain on the land, with the rest expelled and their properties handed over to politically correct blacks.

And research, including examination of various government documents and audit reports show that the biggest beneficiaries of the land reform programme remain ZANU-PF members and supporters, security service chiefs and officers and traditional chiefs who have openly sided with Mugabe and senior government officials and judges.

Some top government officials have been fingered in three official audits as multiple farm owners, clearly thumping their noses at the government's own failed policy of "one man one farm".

The 86-year-old Mugabe and his young second wife, Grace, are the chief multiple farm owners, with 14 farms in total, including seven in his home province of Mashonaland West and in the agriculture rich district of Mazowe in Mashonaland Central.

The farms measure over 16,000 hectares - enough to build 160,000 medium density houses - and include a five-in-one 4,046-hectare property named Gushungo Estate in Darwendale near Mugabe's rural Zvimba home.

"This is a political programme camouflaged as land reform because it is clear that land has been transferred to high profile people and not the landless," John Worsley-Worswick from the vocal Justice For Agriculture (JAG) farmers pressure group said.

Another of Mugabe's deputies, John Nkomo is also a multiple farm owner. He now controls the lucrative Jijima wildlife sanctuary in north-west Zimbabwe after he muscled out a fellow black farmer.

Nkomo, who already owned another farm in Matabeleland, seized the Jijima lodge wildlife conservancy (size unkonwn) in north western Zimbabwe in defiance of a High Court order against him.

Asset stripping

Mugabe has not acted on the multiple farm owners, despite three government land audits which fingered top ZANU-PF officials and recommended that they return the farms.

Investigations show that for example Edna Madzongwe, Senate Speaker and a Mugabe relative has since 2000 seized six productive commercial farms in Chegutu district, Mashonaland West province, farms which she has all but run down.

These are Aitape, Cobun Estates, Bourne, Mpofu Farm, Reyden and Stockdale Farm, which she seized from an elderly white couple last year. The farms, which span 5,200 hectares in total, are all in Chegutu, some 100 kilometres west of capital Harare.

"Some of this can only be described as asset stripping because if you look at the farms now they are now in a derelict state and Madzongwe keeps hoping from one farm to another," said a white commercial farmer who lost his farm but declined to be named fearing victimisation.

Investigations also showed that top politicians have in the past years moved from one farm to another, stripping them of equipment and selling off the produce, which has seen some of them rich overnight.

But Madzongwe is only one of several high-ranking ZANU-PF officials who have more than one farm.

Governor's five farms

The president of the Chiefs' Council Fortune Charumbira has seized more than four farms in Masvingo measuring 6,600 hectares in total and Information Minister Webster Shamu owns Lambourne farm and Selous Tobacco Estates in Mashonaland West measuring 1,660 hectares.

A government audit carried in 2002 showed that former Mashonaland West provincial governor Peter Chanetsa at one point had five farms spanning 4,000 hectares, former Mines Minister and legislator Chindori Chininga, Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo own or have owned multiple farms at some point.

"It is incumbent on the government and ... ZANU-PF to quickly re-align the land reform programme implementation to the national land policy in order to reassert its credibility as a just and democratic programme to equitably redistribute the land in Zimbabwe and empower the indigenous people through land ownership," the audit report said.

Agriculture remains the mainstay of Zimbabwe's economy but production in the sector has plunged by 60 percent since 2000 when government-backed land invasions started.

Exports from the sector have fallen from $1.4 billion - 41percent of exports - in 2000 to nearly $700 million last year, after falling below $500 million in 2007, blamed largely on poorly equipped new black farmers and lack of farming inputs like seed and fertiliser.

But the downfall in agricultural output is also attributed in part to the fact that a huge chunk of some of the most productive and largest former white-owned commercial farms hoarded by senior Mugabe political allies are lying fallow either because the new owners are not that keen on farming or they simply abandoned the properties for new farms.

Gov't to seize excess land

Lands and Rural Resettlement Minister Hebert Murerwa said while there were some people with multiple farms, these were very few and would be forced to give them up.

"The fact that a handful of people may have more than one farm does not detract from the overwhelming success of the land reform where the government has created 300,000 new farmers over the last ten years" Murerwa said.

While much has been said bout the failure of black villagers resettled on former white farms to feed Zimbabwe chiefly because they lack financial resources, little is said about the fact that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe went to great lengths -- including employing rather questionable methods such as printing money -- to try to fund the new farmers.

The central bank had between 2003 and 2008 pumped in $3 billion in the agriculture sector alone by printing money and raiding accounts of NGOs and exporters, to buy subsidised farming equipment, fuel, seed and fertiliser. But this has mostly benefitted influential Mugabe allies, some who are accused of selling inputs on the black market.

Malawi in comparison, which spend half the amount to support its farmers has grown to become a net food exporter, while Zimbabwe continues to plug a food deficit.

Political analysts say Mugabe has managed to ensure support from the key security service, including the army, police and central intelligence, by dishing out prime farms to commanders and senior officers.

The security forces

Of the nearly 200 officers from the rank of Major to the Lieutenant General in the Zimbabwe National Army, 90 percent have farms in the most fertile parts of the country. This is replicated in the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Zimbabwe Prisons Service, Air Force of Zimbabwe and CIO.

In total there are 400 officers in the security services alone who are known to have farms above 250 hectares, often seized at gun point from the previous white owners while several lower ranking officers and war veterans also have smaller holdings.

Constantine Chiwenga, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander, who is among a cabal of Defence Forces chiefs who have publicly declared that they will only serve Mugabe, has two farms near Harare, including the 1,200 hectare Chakoma Estates, which his wife seized at gunpoint, telling a terrified white farmer that she lusted for white blood and sought the slightest excuse to kill him.

Perence Shiri, a veteran of the liberation struggle whose record was soiled during his command of an army crack unit in an insurgency crackdown in Matabeleland in early 1980s, has two farms, the 1,460 hectare Eirin farm in Marondera, which he seized after evicting 96 landless families and the 1,950 hectare banana producing Bamboo Creek in Shamva.

Augustine Chihuri, Mugabe's loyal Police Commissioner General owns Woodlands Farm (size unknown) in Shamva.

In the past year more than a dozen senior army and air force officers with have used armed soldiers to evict white commercial farmers.

In August last year Brigadier General Justin Mujaji evicted white farmer Charles Lock from his 376 hectare Karori farm in Headlands district east of Harare and defied several High Court orders, including one meant to allow Lock to take his tobacco and maize crop and equipment.

"Clearly there is a common thread here, where the military which is supposed to defend its citizens brazenly terrorises them in the name of land reform," said John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe political lecturer and Mugabe critic.

Politburo and judges

All of ZANU-PF's 56 politburo members, 98 Members of Parliament and 35 elected and unelected Senators were allocated former white farms, all 10 provincial governors have seized farms, with four being multiple owners, while 65 percent of the country's more than 200 mostly partisan traditional chiefs have also benefited from the land reforms.

Sixteen Supreme Court and High Court Judges, including Chief Justice Chidyausiku, who owns the 1 000 hectare Estes Park farm in Mazowe/Concession district, also own large farms ranging between 540 to 1380 hectares.

Forty serving and former ambassadors have been allocated farms, with 70 percent of Parastatals bosses also owning large tracts of land.

Investigations have also revealed that Mugabe's personal banker and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono surprisingly does not own a farm given to him by government but has managed to buy four farms, including the prime 4,000 hectare Donnington farm in Norton he purchased in 2001.

Sources said Gono, who at the time was CBZ Holdings chief executive who personally authorised loans for senior government officials, bought the farms at knockdown prices from farmers who were under pressure from invaders to leave their properties.

"The white farmers have simply been replaced by a new black elite," said a source. But while the old white farmers regarded farming as a profession and most worked their land full time maintaining Zimbabwe as the bread basket of Africa , the Mugabe cronies who have replaced them largely fit the mould of what Mugabe himself has described as "mobile phone farmers".

They are largely responsible for converting Zimbabwe into a basket case as they have used their land more for weekend recreation.

Minister of State in Vice President Joyce Mujuru's office, Sylvester Nguni, himself a huge land owner, once accused his fellow ZANU PF officials of only acquiring vast swathes of land "for pride" as they had dismally failed to use their land many years after they seized it.

While most of the seized land controlled by these top Mugabe cronies continue to lie fallow, most of the poor peasants and small holder farmers in communal and other better areas account for most of the improvements in agricultural output last year.

In fact, the peasant farmers accounted for more than half of Zimbabwe's total maize production even before the mass evictions of white landowners who mostly focused on cash crops.

Sources say if the land reforms had been based on a transparent poverty alleviation thresholds and properly implemented with the right beneficiaries being selected and empowered without Mugabe's patronage considerations, the white farmers would largely have not been missed.

But even the 350 000 black farm workers, who many had thought would be among the initial targets or beneficiaries of land reforms were largely ignored.

Unconfirmed reports say many of the former farm labourers have died due to poverty after they were evicted alongside their former white employers. The few who remained on the farms have to content with the new black landowners who don't invest on the properties and pay them starvation wages. -- ZimOnline