Illegal settlers ordered to vacate Zimbabwe farms


Zimbabwe’s new agriculture minister ordered illegal occupiers of farms to vacate the land immediately, a move that could ultimately see white farmers who say they were unfairly evicted return.

Perrance Shiri, a military hardliner who was head of the air force before being picked for the land and agriculture ministry, called for “unquestionable sanity on farms”, the government-owned Herald newspaper reported.

Land is an emotive issue in the southern African nation after the violent invasion of white-owned farms in 2000 by supporters of former president Robert Mugabe, who defended the seizures as a necessary redress of colonial-era imbalances.

The seizures sent the agricultural sector — the mainstay of Zimbabwe’s economy, once one of Africa’s most promising — into a tail-spin, triggering a broader slump that saw GDP almost halve between 2000 and 2008.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced 93-year-old Mugabe as leader last month, promised to stabilise the economy, including agriculture, and create jobs.

Reuters reported in September Mnangagwa was plotting with the military, liberation war veterans and businessmen including current and former white farmers to take over from Mugabe, who resigned after a de facto military coup.
“All those who were illegally settled or who just settled themselves on resettlement land should vacate immediately,” Shiri was quoted as saying on the Herald’s website after meeting provincial ministers in Harare.
“Only those people with documentation and/or those allocated land legitimately should remain on the farms and concentrate on production unhindered.”

The Herald is government’s main mouthpiece and reflects its thinking and intentions.

Peter Steyl, president of the mostly white Commercial Farmers Union told Reuters: “It’s still early days, my attitude is to wait a bit more, I am encouraged by the message from government which means there will be room for white farmers to come back.
“Government has a lot of problems to sort out and we have to be patient,” he said.

A white farmer kicked off his property at gunpoint in June was told last week he could return within days, the first signs of the post-Mugabe government making good on promises to respect agricultural property rights.

White farmers previously complained politically connected people used state security agents to force them off their farms, sometimes even when they were harvesting.