Zimbabwe: Tobacco Rots As Banket Farmer Is 'Evicted'

Photo: Zimbabwe Rising
Tobacco growers in Zimbabwe.

A Banket commercial farmer, Pieter Zwanikken (51) was last week evicted from his farm by a group of suspected war veterans leaving US$25 000 worth of his tobacco to rot.

The Dutch national last year survived an assassination attempt by a whisker when unknown people shot him in the face in a bid to force him off the farm.

Zwanikken, whose Riverbed Farm is protected by a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (Bippa) between Zimbabwe and the Netherlands, said some war veterans came to his farm and flattened all tyres of his 10 tractors and ordered his workers to attend a political meeting.

He said when some of his workers refused to attend the political meeting, a misunderstanding ensued and 10 of his workers were arrested by Banket police for inciting violence.

The 10 will appear in court on Monday on charges of inciting violence.

Zwanikken said he was likely to lose all his US$1 million investment on the farm that includes 10 tractors, two centre pivots, big grading shed, water pumps and irrigation system.

The Dutch national said trouble started two years ago when one Charles Mupanduki came armed with an offer letter for Riverbed Farm signed by the then Agriculture minister, Herbert Mrerwa.

The 563 hectare-farm was divided into 29 plots of 6 hectares in 2000 at the height of the land distribution exercise.

Zwanikken accused a senior government official in the province of being behind the "senseless invasions" which always happen when he was about to harvest his tobacco.

He said the police were cooperating but said "their hands are tied as they are working under instruction from higher offices".

"This lawlessness by war vets is destructive and the country will not develop as expected because as I speak, my tobacco worth US$25 000 is going bad in the curing barns," said Zwanikken.

Another farmer, Rolf Forrester of Cambria Farm near Banket, also had operations disturbed by unknown people, possibly war veterans, at the instigation by the same top government official.

The latest invasions in Banket come barely a week after the former Midlands governor, Cephas Msipa said white dairy farmers could keep their properties and continue production, in the spirit of national interest.

He said if focus was not placed on production, the country would be importing milk. Msipa, who is also a Zanu PF politburo member, made the remarks during a visit by Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development deputy-minister, Paddy Zhanda, to meet farmers in Gweru last week.

He said the colour of one's skin did not matter as long as they were productive on the pieces of land they occupied, adding that he joined Zanu PF to bring positive change to the country and not for personal gain.

Since the land invasions in 2000, Zimbabwe has been unable to produce enough cereals to meet national requirements. The country has been relying on grain imported by government, aid agencies and the private sector to cover the deficit.

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