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Resettled farmers troop back to their villages

Feeling shortchanged in a land reform programme initiated by the government and Zimbabwe s liberation war veterans, the resettled farmers have opted to go back to their ancestral land.
Rodrick Mukumbira

Jabulani Jombo is a typical example of the shortcomings associated with Zimbabwe's fast-track land reform programme. While the programme is meant to benefit landless people forced to live in congested communal areas and reverse the legacy of a century of colonial land policy, Jombo, a father of four, admits that he is not part of the lucky few.

He is currently making strigent plans to return to his village of origin. His plot at De Beers Ranch, 35 kilometres north west of the mining town of Zvishavane in the Midlands province in central Zimbabwe, is arid and dotted with acacia thorn trees, and had mostly been used for cattle-ranching by white commercial farmers.

"I have nothing to show for the two years I have lived on the land," says Jombo. "My harvests are insignificant and are not enough to feed my family. This area is not meant for crops."

When the fast-track land reform programme commenced in 2000, self-styled war veterans led hundreds of land-hungry Zimbabweans into the De Beers Farm. This prompted the owners of the farm, the Oppenheimer family in South Africa, which is into mining, to donate a fraction of the over 500 000 hectares property to the government.

Since he has only two head of cattle for draught power, he says, preparing his plot was proving too difficult a situation that left him with no option but to return to his father's home, where he can pool resources with his extended family.

Jombo says he is now certain that by moving thousands of people to unsuitable land, veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war and the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government were only interested in getting their votes in the 2000 parliamentary and 2002 presidential elections.

Like any other settlers turning their backs on their new farms all over the country, Jombo complains that schools are very remote and it is difficult for his two school-going children to travel the distance. The resettlement area also lacks proper health facilities, and transport is mostly by ox-drawn cart.

But Jombo is not the only "new farmer" in a dilemma. When NewsfromAfrica visited the area in September at least half the families that had invaded the ranch were thinking of going back to their original homes, with a significant number uncertain about their future in De Beers.

In the settlements, hastily constructed pole and mud huts were falling apart, with hardly any signs of tending the land as the rainy season approaches. A few goats and cattle roamed between small patches of fields cultivated in the last two years.

Kumbira Mbeveri from Siboza, 10 kilometres north of Zvishavane has opted to return to his original home out of disillusionment. "I went to De Beers in 2001, during the height of farm invasions. At first I was sceptical about the farm invasions, but when I saw a significant number of my neighbours leaving, I decided to join the trek," says Mbeveri.

During the early days of the fast-track programme there was a sense of euphoria "about farm invasions, and I genuinely believed that, at last, I would be a proud owner of my own piece of land". "[But] I discovered that the area we had been made to move into did not have good soils, having been reserved for cattle ranching," he says.

The new farmers' problems have been compounded by last year's insufficient rains. "There is no way in which the new farmers there could get good harvests owing to the poor soils, which are just as bad as where I come from," Mbeveri adds.

Observers and traditional leaders say the return of settlers would result in added pressure to the exhausted communal lands. "We were relieved to some extent when some of our sons decided to go to the resettlement areas, but now that they are returning we will have another headache of finding space to stay," says Chief Kenias Mapanzure, whose jurisdiction covers the resettlement area.

A Human Rights Watch report last year decried "the lack of structured support for new settlers". The Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU), an organization representing the country's peasant farmers, admits that lack of subsidised agricultural inputs, and the sky-rocketing prices of inputs on the market, are serious obstacles to the success of new farmers.

"There's a shortage of some of the inputs. In terms of maize seed, we'll probably get about 50 per cent of the requirement from local seed production," says Tafireyi Chamboko, ZFU's chief economist. "The government has been trying to supply inputs to new farmers through an inputs credit scheme but there are not enough inputs to meet the requirements", he adds.

To make matters worse, the new farmers have also been exposed to alleged forced evictions to make way for government officials and ruling party stalwarts, an issue the government has denied.

The banned independent newspaper, The Daily News, recently reported about 1,000 resettled farmers whose homes were torched at a farm in central Zimbabwe to make way for an official in the foreign affairs ministry.

In mid-August, the government reportedly ordered 1,000 settlers to vacate Little England Farm in north western Zimbabwe in Mugabe's rural home area, to make way for Winnie Mugabe, the widow of the president's late nephew. The settlers are currently involved in running battles with the widow with news reports saying the settlers once assaulted her and her two sons.

Findings of investigations headed by land reform minister Flora Buka last year into allegations of gross violations of the "one man, one farm" principle have not been made public by the government. But information leaked to the local and international press implicated prominent politicians as having allegedly grabbed several farms for themselves.

Robert Mugabe recently called on his lieutenants to surrender the excess farms they had grabbed. Only Obert Mpofu, the governor for Matebeleland North in western Zimbabwe heeded the call and surrendered his two farms. He however reportedly moved on to occupy part of the Hwange National Park, the country's biggest game sanctuary which is in his constituency.

A land review committee, formed at the behest of Mugabe to carry out a follow-up land audit, is understood to have finished its work. However, this committee, led by Charles Utete, the former secretary to the president and cabinet, has yet to release its findings.

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