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Zimbabwe Opposition Figure Caught In Land-Lease Controversy

Zimbabwe's acting house leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also rural housing minister, dropped a bombshell in question period in parliament Wednesday when he said that one of those who received 99-year farm leases from President Robert Mugabe last month was the senior opposition figure Welshman Ncube.

Mnangagwa said Ncube, secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Arthur Mutambara, had flouted the policy of his party in accepting the 99-year lease. Long sought by white farmers dispossessed under land reform as a means of returning to agriculture with security of tenure, the distribution of leases recently was criticized as mainly favoring officials and government cronies.

Ncube, secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Arthur Mutambara, was generally considered to have been the leader of the group of MDC officials who broke with party founder Morgan Tsvangirai in October 2005 and established a rival faction over the question of contesting senate elections.

Mnangagwa's revelation came in a response to a question as to whether members of the opposition could benefit from the long-term lease arrangement. Mnangagwa said the government has allocated Ncube multiple farms under the land reform.

Ncube was in parliament at the time but made no comment. After speaking briefly with a VOA reporter on Thursday he did not respond to subsequent phone calls.

But spokesman Gabriel Chaibva of the Mutambara faction dismissed Mnangagwa’s statements as “cheap propaganda”. He said Ncube was given a lease in 1997 but the farm was invaded and that he is now leasing a farm from another individual.

Chaibva said his party condemns the land reform programme describing it as “chaotic and violent” and primarily of use to the ruling ZANU-PF for political patronage.

Zimbabwean Ambassador to the United States Machivenyika Mapuranga pointed to Mnangagwa's contentions on Wednesday in a televised Voice of America interview as evidence that land reform has been carried out in an equitable way.

Political analyst and government critic John Makumbe told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the disclosure of Ncube's acceptance of a lease, if confirmed, could damage his reputation and political career.

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