PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has ordered the withdrawal of offer letters for land owned by giant South African sugar producer Tongaat Hullet that was grabbed by Zanu PF bigwigs and their relatives from Masvingo.
BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
The dramatic reversal of the land allocations followed a visit by South African President Jacob Zuma, who sources said raised the issue of the seizure of the sugar plantations which are protected by a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (Bippa) between the two countries.
The government last Tuesday sent communication to Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Mahofa informing the settlers that their offer letters had been withdrawn.
According to government officials that requested to remain anonymous, South Africa through its Foreign Affairs ministry had made several requests to Zimbabwe to stop the parcelling out of the land to no avail until Mugabe intervened.
Mahofa said she had received communication signalling the government’s intention to withdraw offer letters for the land in Chiredzi.
“The letters I saw were of an intention to withdraw. They were not withdrawals,” she said.
Lands minister Douglas Mombeshora also professed ignorance about the letters that were dispatched to Mahofa through the Masvingo provincial lands officer.
“I haven’t withdrawn any offer letter. Have you seen the offer letter that has been withdrawn? That is not true,” he claimed.
However, sources in the Lands ministry maintained the offer letters were revoked, claiming Mahofa actually wanted to resist the directive to save the Zanu PF functionaries whom she had allocated the land under unclear circumstances.
Mahofa has been accused of allocating the land to Zanu PF members along factional lines after it emerged that most of the beneficiaries belonged to Team Lacoste, a faction allegedly loyal to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
She also allegedly dished out the land to three of her children, some of who are said to be based in the United Kingdom while seven plots were reserved for her.
Mahofa, sources said, seized an opportunity presented by the redeployment of Lands officials last November to put names of her political allies in the Team Lacoste faction on the list of beneficiaries.
Masvingo’s Zanu PF political godfather, Psychomotor minister Josiah Hungwe and a key member of the Team Lacoste faction also had his son allocated a plot.
Legislator Alois Baloyi reportedly had five plots using various names.
Top Mnangagwa backer July Moyo’s son is also reported to be among the beneficiaries together with Lands and Rural Resettlement deputy minister Berita Chikwama’s daughter.
Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri’s daughter was also reported to be among the beneficiaries.
Apart from the Zanu PF beneficiaries, members of the Masvingo provincial Joint Operations Committee had also been allocated land through their children, while children of directors in the ministry of Lands who are studying out of the country were also allocated.
“Mugabe had ordered the revocation of the offer letters a long time back but Mahofa and Hungwe were defying him,” a source said.
“The invasion has already affected about 4 000 contract workers.”
The contract workers are not part of the 1 200 fulltime employees whose jobs were under threat following the move to seize Tongaat’s plantations.
Mugabe had in the past suggested that virgin land be identified for resettlement, but Mahofa has been defiant, preferring to redistribute the already serviced Tongaat land.
“Tongaat made several engagements with the government, and at one time, approached Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, who then had a meeting with the Lands officials who were revisiting because they also benefitted.”
Another source added: “It was only after Zuma came that he told Mugabe that South African companies would not come to invest because Zimbabwe does not respect property rights, including Bippa agreements, citing the Tongaat issue, which was the subject of his visit, that he eventually gave the order.”
“The beneficiaries were actually intending to invade the sugarcane plantations at the harvesting stage, but their challenge was where to sell the loot because Tongaat is the sole buyer of the cane,” said the source.
Zimbabwe’s reputation as an investment destination has been soiled by the lack of respect for property rights, which has seen farms protected by Bippas being invaded.