18 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Land Grabs - the New 'Hard Work'

editorial

YESTERDAY Zimbabwe woke up to disturbing news that President Robert Mugabe's wife, Grace, had seized an estate owned by ZSE-listed Interfresh Holdings backed by a piece of paper signed by Mashonaland Central governor Martin Dinha, a lawyer by profession, known as an offer letter.

The occupation curiously came at a time when Agriculture minister Herbert Murerwa earlier this month said government would stop seizing land protected under Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements. Although Interfresh is not protected under bilateral laws, it is a public company owned by black Zimbabwean shareholders.

Though the news may come as a shock for many, it provides part of the missing jigsaw after Dinha, during the official opening of the Amai Mugabe Junior School in Mazowe last week, said more land would be made available to the first lady for her orphanage.

For a country desperately in need of foreign direct investment, such blatant disregard for the sanctity of property rights, which Mugabe once said should be respected, is destructive and retrogressive behaviour by those who, after years of running down the country's economy, should be atoning for their destructive policies by crafting policies to lure foreign investors.

This brazen violation of other citizens' property rights further sends chills down the spines of already unnerved investors. The occupation of the farm puts a damper on Mugabe and government's commitment to make Zimbabwe a safe investment destination where property rights are sacrosanct, particularly at a time the economy's outlook is looking gloomy with GDP growth expected to be lower than last year.

Although it has not been confirmed that the first lady wants to turn this productive land into an orphanage, her actions have triggered questions about the presidential family's multiple-farm ownership in the wake of proof that Mugabe owns various pieces of land around Mazowe.

Whenever a farm is occupied in the Mazowe area, the speculation is always that the first lady is involved. Elsewhere, this would be a scandal of ernomous proportions.

The latest move also brings to the fore the question; just how many farms does the first family need? Elsewhere in this paper, we list some of the land the Mugabes have reportedly seized. The case of former Standard Chartered Bank CEO Washington Matsaira, which got little publicity, quickly springs to mind. It's a sad story of a banker with title deeds to his land being forced to sell by the most powerful family in the country and watching his investment go without payment.

Ben Hlatshwayo, a judge in the High Court, was forced to take legal action a few years ago against the first lady after she had occupied his farm. The dispute only ended after an out-of- court settlement, but the judge lost his farm.

Perhaps Hlatshwayo aptly captured the occupation of his farm by the first lady in court papers where he reportedly said the "unlawful conduct" by Gushungo Holdings, the Mugabes' holding company, clearly had "no lawful basis for such interference, which conduct, by its very nature, amounts to spoliation".

And a pertinent question here: The first lady likes to expound upon the virtues of hard work. What hard work is there in seizing somebody else's property without batting an eyelid?

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