Zimbabwe: a new wave of land seizures?

Youths aligned with President Mugabe's ZANU PF party have begun a new wave of land seizures, attacking white and foreign-owned companies and damaging one of the few functioning parts of the economy.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
Members of the ZANU PF party chant party slogans during a demonstration through the streets of Harare, on July 23.

A country still reeling under the economic meltdown of the controversial land reform, Zimbabwe is on the brink of yet another potentially damaging economic exercise: seizing white-controlled companies in urban centers and mines through out the country.

Under the banner of the 21st February Movement, an organization formed in line with President Robert Mugabe’s birthday, Zanu PF youths are indiscriminately invading white- and foreign-owned companies under the controversial Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act, which requires that foreigners possess 41 percent of shares while the rest goes to indigenous people.

While compliance should be executed in boardrooms, young members of the Zimbabwe African National Union -- Patriotic Front, led by President Mugabe, have adopted the violent land reform style of grabbing the companies, at times forcing the closure of strategic economic units and at the same time causing mayhem, especially in the capital, Harare. It's a method that was used in the past decade against white-owned farms, and which has been blamed for a severe drop in food production. Once a food-exporter, Zimbabwe now is a recipient of food aid.

Press reports in Zimbabwe suggests that the “rogue” youths have “literally taken over Harare by invading almost all council properties, car parks, ranks, markets and open spaces meant for council projects,” saying they were taking over what “rightly belonged” to them.

Home Affairs co-minister Mrs. Theresa Makone has said she had given up on trying to control the youths.

“In my constituency, there is chaos, and ZANU PF youths have finished building a base and there is nothing I can do to stop their invasions," Ms. Makone told NewsDay newspaper. "I and the deputy mayor are in the same area and we have a problem. When I wanted to develop, they denied me. There is nothing we can do...."

ZANU PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo has disowned the youths, saying they were members of the opposition, while his party secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa recently claimed responsibility for the violence that rocked Parliament Building, saying they would defend the youths if they were arrested.

In Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Bulawayo, the same youths have occupied buildings owned by Zimbabweans of Asian origin for the past year, claiming it was part of their indigenization drive to pass businesses onto black people. Prejudice against Africans of Asian origin is common throughout the continent because of their prominent place in business affairs. African politicians of the past, such as Uganda's former dictator Idi Amin, once targeted Asian merchants and landowners.

While land invasions were aimed at "taking back" land owned by white commercial farmers and giving it to the poor, the violent land reform which started in 1995 has left thousands of farm workers without jobs and forced hundreds of white farmers to flee to countries such as Zambia and Nigeria.

Political commentator Hopewell Gumbo says that the current wave of invasions could finish off those few sections of the economy that still function.

“This is another exercise which spells doom for Zimbabwe, particularly on the economic front," says Mr. Gumbo. "The unfortunate reality is that while in the Government of National Unity, the MDC is trying to heal the battered economy, Zanu PF is pulling in another direction.

“The new wave of invasions will not benefit the country at all except to put the country on the rogue map of the world," he adds. "Zanu PF is grandstanding.”

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