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With IMF Review In Progress, Zimbabwe Farm Invasions Continue

Despite the presence in Harare of teams from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, seizures of white-owned commercial farms by partisans of President Robert Mugabe are proceeding at a rapid rate in the stated aim of putting all farm land in indigenous hands.

Observers say the latest phase of the land reform program, launched in 2000 and blamed by most economists for the country's economic collapse, undermines the government's case for a new deal with the IMF and its rehabilitation as a full member qualifying for loans.

The farm seizures also risk undermining Zimbabwe's relationship with the Southern African Development Community as they run counter to the thrust of a decision handed down by the regional organization's Namibia-based tribunal finding for a group of white farmers who were ordered off their property without proper compensation by the state. President Mugabe has declared in effect that Harare and not SADC will govern the disposition of land.

Mr. Mugabe declared last month during celebrations of his 85th birthday that the remaining white farms must be seized and put into the hands of Zimbabwean blacks. In practice, many choice properties have ended up in the hands of ministers or top officials of his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, better known as ZANU-PF.

The Commercial Farmers Union representing mainly white commercial farmers said that since the signature last Sept. 15 of the power-sharing agreement leading to the formation of the national unity government established in February, some 250 white-owned farms out of the estimated 400 that remained in the country have been taken over by militants.

CFU President Trevor Gifford said a major push started in February with state land officials fast-tracking evictions of white farmers, particularly in the provinces of Masvingo, Manicaland and Mashonaland Central. One high-profile target of the latest push was a farm owned by InterFresh Ltd., an exchange-traded firm that supplies oranges to drinks maker Mazowe.

Gifford told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the latest farm invasions will hurt winter wheat planting in particular.

Agronomist Roger Mpande said the latest invasions weaken Zimbabwe’s position with the Southern African Development Community, from which it hopes to obtain loans, and with the International Monetary Fund, now conducting an Article IV consultation aimed at assessing the country's economic and monetary situation.

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