By Basildon Peta
Only about half of the eight million hectares of land seized from Zimbabwe's white farmers has been occupied by new black owners, prompting fears of
a drastic decline in agricultural output next year.
Most of the land seized from farmers under Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's controversial policies of confiscating white farms for resettling
blacks is now lying fallow, much of it abandoned by new owners who were not given the resources to farm.
So bad is the situation that the government has threatened to re-confiscate land from the new black owners and transfer it to others. Reports said in
some areas the government had already started reconfiscating the land.
'People should be on their farms before the end of the rainy season'
Mashonaland East province, which had some of the country's most productive farmland and biggest tobacco farms, was the worst affected. David
Karimanzira, the province's governor and resident minister, admitted that only half of the seized land in the province had been occupied, close to a
month after the expiry of the first deadline for the new black farmers to move there.
"We have given the new settlers a deadline of up to the end of this month, failing which the land will be given to other applicants," Kariomanzira
told the state-owned Herald newspaper.
The deadline is the second issued to the new settlers in as many months.
"We want production on the farms and people should be on their farms before the end of the rainy season," said Karimanzira.
In Matabeleland North Province, authorities had already started reconfiscating land. Obert Mpofu, the province's governor, was also quoted recently
by the Herald as saying his officials had already started re-possessing "plots which have not been taken up by the beneficiaries and allocating them
to applicants who have been on the waiting list".
'This is not a land reform programme'
"People who were allocated land were given until August 31 as the deadline to occupy the farms but there are some who still have not done so. We
cannot have farms lying idle when there are people who are prepared to work them," Mpofu was quoted as saying.
"New farmers should understand that they now have an important role to play. That is feeding the nation and they can only do so when they utilise
their farms," he said.
Observers said the fact that the Herald, which routinely parrots the government's propaganda, was prepared to quote the officials was proof of the
chaotic nature of the land reform programme.
Gerry Davidson, a director of the Commercial Farmers Union, said the real rate of occupation on all seized farms was likely to be far less than half.
Local farmers' associations still operating around the country "would not even put the figure as high as half", he was quoted as saying.
Some of the farms designated for compulsory seizure were demarcated into small plots for redistribution to their new black owners. One farm was
demarcated into as many as 61 plots, but only four people had been resettled there.
Davidson was quoted by the Zimbabwe News, a website newspaper covering news from that country, as saying the end result of subdivision was to decrease
"A lot of them did not realise the implications of what it means to start farming," Davidson said.
Most were unable to raise money to begin cropping or keep livestock, while many were reluctant to move on to their new plots without a ready-built
home. Others were allocated land unsuitable for agriculture.
"If there had been a properly scheduled take-over, this trough in production could have been avoided," Davidson said.
"Clearly it demonstrates that this is not a land reform programme. It was done because there was an election coming."
Only about 400 white farmers remain on their land in Zimbabwe against a figure of more than 4 000 six months ago. The Farm Community Trust estimates
that 250 000 farm workers have been left jobless and without any roofs over their heads by the indiscriminate land seizures.
Many white farmers, who had not been served with eviction notices, have been forcibly removed from their properties by rampaging war veterans.
The problem of lack of occupancy on the seized farms stems from the lack of clear criteria for the selection of settlers. Although many donors agree
on the need for land reform in Zimbabwe, they have frozen their funding because of the lack of definition about who qualifies for settlement.