Mugabe moves into cities to seize land owned by whites

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The Independent Online

President Robert Mugabe's government has launched a new wave of land seizures targeted at white-owned land in Zimbabwe's urban areas, in violation of his own controversial private property confiscation laws.

A government programme codenamed Operation Clean Sweep is reportedly underway despite statements by President Mugabe that his land seizures ended last year.

There has been no official confirmation of Operation Clean Sweep but an analysis of new lists of properties published in recent days by the state press show that vast swaths of land in or near urban areas have been earmarked for compulsory seizure.

In a notice published in recent days by the state-owned Herald newspaper, the permanent secretary for Local Government and National Housing, Vincent Hungwe, announced: "The Government has identified a number of peri-urban farms around major cities and towns of Zimbabwe for immediate acquisition to accommodate urban expansion.

"The identified farms will be acquired in terms of the law and held as state land."

The government has claimed it needs land for low-cost housing and other urban expansion projects. But opponents say the real aim is to consolidate illegal housing developments by so-called "war veterans" on private land in the cities.

The first such urban seizure was the 330 hectares Carrick Creagh Estate owned by the Newmarch family in the affluent Borrowdale suburb of Harare. Invaded two years ago by war veterans, the prime residential land has since been sold off in plots as part of the "Sally Mugabe Heights" housing scheme. The Newmarch family obtained a court order to halt the developments but the authorities have ignored it.

The Zimbabwe government has mostly completed its land seizure programme in farming areas outside city boundaries as set out in the Land Acquisition Act. Prime farms have since been confiscated by President Mugabe's cronies, forcing the Zimbabwe leader to set up an inquiry to establish the extent of abuse of the land reform programme by his own supporters.

Mr Mugabe has since ordered his supporters, some of whom had reportedly grabbed as many as five farms each, to surrender land and keep only one farm each. But many have registered the farms in the names of relatives.

Landowners - who asked not to be named for fear of retribution - said there was no law which allowed the government to seize urban land without paying immediate compensation.

One man whose estate has been designated for seizure said he was being pushed off his land to make way for a housing co-operative run by ruling party supporters who had illegally occupied his farm and partitioned it into residential plots for sale.

"The simple point is that there is no respect for property rights in this country. There is no respect for any form of tenure and you can be told you are no longer the owner of your property any time this suits the regime," said the farmer.

"It should surprise no one if this government starts seizing all white-owned houses one of these fine days."

Farming organisations in Zimbabwe say only about 400 farmers have been left on their properties out of an initial 4,500 before violent land seizures began in 2000. But the new wave of land seizures could push remaining private owners out. What baffles many farmers is that the land seizures have continued despite President Mugabe's announcement last year that they had ended.

The economic collapse in Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of southern Africa, has been blamed on the land seizure programme.

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