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Militarization of Zimbabwe Agriculture Leads to Abuses - Report

The Zimbabwean governments Operation Taguta-Sisuthu, Shona and Ndebele for "Eat Well," under which soldiers have taken charge of farms large and small, has been a disaster for farmers in Matabeleland, according to a report issued by the Solidarity Peace Trust, a nongovernmental organization based in South Africa.

The organization issued a report saying soldiers have mismanaged irrigation schemes and "systematically" destroyed market gardens that provided essential income to the farming communities, leaving them impoverished and at great risk of hunger.

The report on Zimbabwe's program of "command agriculture" said gardens were torn up to ensure that only the maize, the country's main staple, would be grown. Even then, maize farmers were deprived of the traditional share of the harvest that the Grain Marketing Board Act guarantees them for household consumption.

The report says soldiers have beaten people in the fields in Matabeleland, and that plot holders feel they are being treated as indentured laborers with no rights and no claim to their produce. The presence of soldiers “has disrupted the social fabric and left people angry and afraid," said the report, adding that this atmosphere brings back memories of the so-called Gukurahundi operations of the 1980s when Zimbabwe's Fifth Brigade terrorized the region in an ethnic-political purge.

The Solidarity Peace Trust, chaired by Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, an outspoken critic of President Robert Mugabe, urges nongovernmental organizations and the international community to demand that the government make clear its actual intentions in pursuing Operation Taguta-Sisuthu. The Trust is urging an investigation into the destruction of market gardens and loss of income which has ensued, followed by prosecution and compensation for losses.

The organization said the army should be charged with violating the GMB Act where troops have seized the maize of irrigation plot holders or deprived farmers of maize which they have grown and need to retain for their family's survival.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Solidarity Peace Trust Deputy Director Selvan Chety about the call for an investigation.

A senior government official challenged the report. William Nhara, director of public and interactive affairs in the office of President Robert Mugabe, said such reports are being fabricated to discredit an operation intended to improve food output.

But Bulawayo-based political activist Felix Mafa said that while the government may dismiss such reports, that does not change the reality on the ground.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...