Zimbabwe has started repossessing land grabbed by former president Robert Mugabe’s allies during a controversial agricultural reform programme amid claims the exercise is politically motivated.
Mr Mugabe, who spearheaded the often violent take over of commercial farms owned by Zimbabwe’s minority white population for redistribution to landless blacks, was toppled in a coup in 2017 by his loyalists. He died in Singapore in September last year.
Now Mugabe’s allies that escaped to exile during the coup say they are being targeted for victimisation by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration after they opposed his ascendancy.
The targeted former ruling Zanu-PF party officials include former first lady Grace Mugabe who has already lost a farm.
Others include former ministers Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao who are all in exile.
The former ministers were recently issued with eviction letters with the government arguing that their farms were under utilised.
Professor Moyo, a former higher education minister and one time ruling party strategist, has since taken the government to court arguing that he was being targeted for persecution because he was opposed to Mnangagwa’s leadership.
In court papers, he said the government’s actions were politically motivated and had nothing to do with the alleged underutilisation of the land.
“I have always had problems with this farm whenever I have fallen out of favour with the ruling elite,” Prof Moyo said in court papers filed at the Harare High Court.
“The current problems can also be traced to the political fallout leading to the ouster of RG Mugabe as president of the republic.”
“I must point out that the military, led by the respondent [agriculture minister Perrance Shiri] announced that I was one of the criminals around the president who had to be weeded out. In the event we were.”
Prof Moyo said he had not been able to defend himself against the government’s move to seize the farm because he ran away from Zimbabwe during the coup when soldiers tried to kill him and his family.
The former academic recently published a book, which he claimed exposed how the military rigged the 2018 elections on behalf of President Mnangagwa and now believes he is being punished for that.
Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who narrowly lost the presidential vote, has consistently refused to recognise Mnangagwa’s victory arguing that the polls were rigged.
“I also point out that the withdrawal has been made in the context of the publication, by me, of an academic book in which I expose what I consider to be the manner in the 2018 elections were rigged,” Prof Moyo argued in the court papers.
“That the withdrawal comes hard upon the publication of the book is not a coincidence, particularly as it comes before I have exercised my full and effectual right to be heard.”
Mr Kasukuwere, who was the local government minister as well as the ruling Zanu-PF commissar at the time of the coup, recently announced that he was considering challenging President Mnangagwa in the 2023 presidential elections.
He tweeted that attempts to grab his farm by the government was part of political persecution.
Mr Zhuwao, a former youth minister in Mugabe’s government, last month announced he was joining South Africa’s radical opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters.
Soon after Mr Mugabe’s death, the government initiated a process to seize at least four farms owned by the long time ruler’s family.
The farms located west of Harare house a dairy products venture, an elite school and an orphanage that were started by Mr Mugabe’s widow.
They are part of real estate worth millions of dollars accumulated by Zimbabwe’s founding leader’s eccentric wife through violent takeovers in recent years.
President Mnangagwa has also publicly stated Mr Mugabe’s family owned at least 16 farms and indicated they would be repossessed in line with the government’s “one family, one farm policy.”
Critics say the land reform largely benefited the former ruler’s cronies, who are holding the land for speculative reasons.
Zimbabwe’s economic collapse has been blamed on the land reform programme as it decimated the agriculture industry, which was the backbone of the economy.
Aid agencies say at least eight million Zimbabweans will need food aid this year due to consecutive years of poor harvests and the economic malaise.
The European Union last week said most Zimbabwe’s commercial farms were lying fallow due to bad government policies and corruption.