Friday, February 06, 2015

Zimbabwe's elite grab land

In 2000, Timon Shava was a hero of Zimbabwe's land reform program when he joined hundreds of other landless peasants in a wave of land seizures and evictions of white farmers. Today, he is homeless after police, acting on behalf of President Robert Mugabe's wife Grace, destroyed dozens of thatch dwellings on a farm that she wants to control. The First Lady, who has another farm in the area, said last year that she wanted to turn this farm into a wildlife conservancy that could raise money for an orphanage. Grace Mugabe has stepped up her entry into politics with the backing of her 90-year-old husband, leader of Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. She became head of the ZANU-PF women's wing in a December party congress.

"They applauded us when we chased away ... the white owner, in 2000. Yet now we are being treated like villains. It's as if we were keeping this place for the big people. We were used," Shava said.

Florence Gurure, who also participated in the 2000 invasion of the farm said "We were hailed as champions when we used force to get this land from the white man, but look at me now."

The disputes over "evictions of ordinary people by the powerful ZANU-PF politicians indicate that the land reform was largely meant to benefit the rich, the politically connected," said Pedzisai Ruhanya, director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, a research group.

The ruling party acknowledged the problem of land grabs by influential people at a December congress, noting it was tantamount to "reversing" the land reform program.

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