Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hunger Forces Mugabe to Backpedal on "Farm Reform"

In an about face, Zimbabwe’s increasingly dictatorial government has reversed itself and is now offering to return farmland to the white farmers whose farms were confiscated. Well, sort of.

Zimbabwe has confirmed that it is offering land to white farmers who had their property seized under President Robert Mugabe's land reform programme.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the BBC any Zimbabwean can apply for land and that farms would be allocated on long leases.

But he said that farmers would not necessarily get back land they lost.

Mugabe’s government has been expropriating white owned farmland for the past five years to the point where nearly all of the country’s white farmers have been driven off their lands. So why the sudden reversal? Well, it might have something to do with this

Zimbabwe has only two weeks of wheat supply left, while citizens are faced with soaring bread prices, Zimbabwe's main milling organisation has said.

The cost of bread has risen by 30%, pushing Zimbabwe's inflation rate to more than 600%.

Zimbabwe has been in economic decline since President Robert Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms in 2000.

The government is reported to have put its security forces on alert in case the discontent leads to protests.

David Govere, deputy chairman of the Millers Association, told AFP news agency the scarcity of wheat has meant a reduction in supplies to bakeries.

A loaf of bread in Zimbabwe currently costs $66,000 Zimbabwean (66 US cents), having risen 30% in just one week.

Proving that he may be mindless, but not without sheer gall, Mugabe’s henchmen are claiming that the white farmers are the ones finally "coming to their senses" – as opposed to hungry Zimbabweans demanding an end to Mugabe’s ruinous policy that has put the country on the verge of famine.

The Zimbabwe government is portraying white farmers as having finally come to their senses, accepting that they cannot resist Mr Mugabe's land reform programme.

"They are begging us for land," Mr Matonga told the BBC.

But BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut hard facts have driven this policy U-turn.

By confiscating the white-owned commercial farms, the government transformed a country that was once the breadbasket of Southern Africa into a net food importer.

And despite good rains there is every prospect of another deficit over the coming season, our correspondent says.

Mr Mugabe has admitted that there was corruption in the distribution of the farms seized from the whites.

Poor blacks farmers, in whose name the land reform was carried out, were often left to fend for themselves.

Without capital, implements or seed, many failed to use the land productively and agricultural output has collapsed.

Tobacco used to be Zimbabwe's major export earner but production has fallen from 237m kg in 2000 to 73m kg last year.

Destroying Zimbabwe’s once-thriving agricultural sector isn’t Mugabe’s only accomplishment. What he has done for agriculture, he’s done for the rest of the economy as well. The latest inflation data was apparently so bad that the government has decided simply not to publish it at all.

Publication of Zimbabwe's inflation data has been postponed "indefinitely", as analysts and economists predicted the figure for April would top 1,000%.

Officials at the Central Statistics Office (CSO) cancelled the release of the data to the media after their boss was called to an urgent meeting.

Zimbabwe's annual inflation rate climbed from 782% in February to 913.6% in March, the highest in the world.

Robert Mugabe's government is facing a severe and deepening economic crisis.

The economy has been hit by shortages of food, fuel, foreign currency, a crumbling urban infrastructure and water and electricity cuts.

Naturally, Mugabe blames his "enemies" (anyone who criticizes his failures) for the situation. Meanwhile he signs various trade agreements with China, another paragon of human rights and democracy, which seem to only enrich himself and his supporters. Still, Mugabe has his admirers. Hugo Chavez thinks he’s just dandy. Pity the Zimbabweans who have to pay the real price for Mugabe’s policies.


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