Mugabe restricts cronies to one confiscated farm each

Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe,has given ministers and aides two weeks to surrender properties seized from white land owners, restricting them to one farm each.

Mr Mugabe had previously stood by his cronies when his embattled regime embarked on a campaign to evict white landowners and seize their properties without compensation, ostensibly to resettle landless black people. Some high-ranking members of the administration own as many as five farms each.

Many of the officials who seized the farms have been unable to put them to productive use, which has resulted in a 60 per cent decline in agricultural output. The land seizures are partly blamed for widespread hunger among the country's 12 million people.

The state-owned Herald newspaper quoted Nathan Shamuyarira, a spokesman for Mr Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, as saying that the President had issued the directive at a politburo meeting on Wednesday. "He advised those with multiple farms to choose one and give up the rest to the government for resettlement," Mr Shamuyarira said.

Mr Mugabe's attempt to curb the excesses of his supporters follows a preliminary report by the Land Review Committee appointed earlier this year. Mr Shamuyarira said Mr Mugabe had acted on the preliminary report "which indicated that a number of people in the party's top hierarchy had multiple farms".

Before the appointment of the Land Review Committee, headed by Mr Mugabe's former cabinet secretary Charles Utete, another government committee headed by Flora Buka, a junior minister, had already uncovered massive corruption in the land grab.

This first report earned Ms Buka the wrath of Mr Mugabe's high-ranking associates, who accused her of working with the international media to discredit the government.

It is unclear whether Mr Mugabe will enforce the latest attempt to rein in his supporters. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is sceptical. It believes the measure is a smokescreen to pacify Mr Mugabe's critics and encourage them to make generous food donations. Last week, President Mugabe's regime appealed for 700,000 tons of food aid.

Mike Sackett, the World Food Programme's (WFP) recently appointed regional director for southern Africa, said on Tuesday that the availability of food in other southern African countries had improved, but that it remained dire in Zimbabwe. Of the $530m (£330m) appeal made by the WFP, at least $312m would be used in Zimbabwe alone.

The patience of many Zimbabweans, who are also having to cope with a shortage of Zimbabwe dollars amid the economic collapse, is wearing thin.

Patrick Chinamasa, the Justice Minister, lashed out yesterday at church mediators trying to restart talks between the ruling party and the MDC.

"They are MDC activists wearing religious collars," he told the Herald, adding that Bishop Sebastian Bakare, head of the three-member mediation group, and Bishop Trevor Manhanga, leader of the Zimbabwe Evangelical Fellowship, were not "honest brokers".

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