Why Foe Mugabe Is Also White Farmers' Ally

Foreign Donors Want Seized Land Paid For

As white commercial farmers in Zimbabwe resist Robert Mugabe's expropriation of their land, they have found their greatest ally - President Mugabe himself.

The farmers want to slow down the expropriation and reduce its scope from 12.4 million to 3.7 million acres.

Mugabe's unrealistic assertion that he will take the land without paying for it - compensating only for the improvements on it - has contributed to the country's economic crisis and demonstrated the white farmers' lobbying clout on the international financial scene.

European donors are eager to help right the skewed land situation in Zimbabwe but will not do so unless farmers are paid for the land. They also insist the situation be handled by an independent land commission rather than by what they consider Mugabe's sticky-fingered Cabinet.

Now that Mugabe has spent unknown millions in his military adventure in Congo, the donors who recently met in Harare are even less likely to ante up the $2 billion needed to fund the land-reform program. They say he should distribute 6.2 million acres already on the government's books.

The black Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) and the white Commercial Farmers Union insist that Mugabe must not repeat the errors of the 1980s, when 8.6 million acres were purchased from whites for landless communities. The small plots, the lack of credit and agricultural know-how, communal ownership rather than individual title, and the population explosion - all this led to misuse of the soil, much of which has turned to desert.

Despite the poor soils that black small-scale farmers occupy, and their lack of water, credit, and machinery, they produce three-quarters of the country's cotton, maize, and cattle, according to ZFU operations director Emmerson Zhou.

That means the capacity is there in black communities to further boost agriculture, which already accounts for 40 percent of exports, if skilled black farmers gain access to land, tools, know-how, and credit.

The black and white farmers unions agree land title must be vested in individuals so that it can be mortgaged to pay for improvements.

But there is a widespread belief Mugabe wants to lease the land to farmers so that he can use it as a political tool.

Meanwhile, the debate has encouraged peasants to invade vacant farms, including some held by a Cabinet minister in charge of land reform.

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