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Sugar plantation occupied in Zimbabwe

Authorities term invasion "illegal" and instruct squatters to vacate South African-owned plantation immediately.

Last updated: 23 May 2014 07:52
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Villagers and alleged war veterans aligned to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's party have occupied a South African sugar firm's plantations in a move government condemned as "illegal".

Douglas Mombeshora, lands and rural resettlement minister, told the AFP news agency on Thursday the move to occupy the sugar estates would not be tolerated.

"We have instructed the police to evict them. There have been some arrests and progress has been made to get all the illegal occupants out," he said.

According to the ministry, "scores" of villagers and veterans descended on the South Africa-based Tongaat Hulett's estates, 500km southeast of the capital Harare, on Monday.

South Africa's Independent Newspapers said around 600 people had occupied the estate.

Adelaide Chikunguru-Musvovi, Tongaat Hulett spokeswoman, said the company was still functioning as normal.

"Our operations are continuing as usual. We have had no disruptions," she said.

The illegal settlers claimed to have government permits allowing them to occupy the two estates in the flat lowlands, according to state-backed daily The Herald.

A war veterans association traditionally associated with the ruling ZANU-PF was reportedly part of the group.

The political leadership is protecting Tongaat Hulett for reasons best known to themselves

Francis Nando

Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association provincial chairman Francis Nando said they would stay on the estate until the authorities fulfilled earlier pledges to allocate them land from sugar cane plots.

"The political leadership is protecting Tongaat Hulett for reasons best known to themselves," he told The Herald.

He was unreachable for further comment.

The illegal settlement is reminiscent of farm invasions sanctioned by Mugabe in the early 2000s that prompted a mass exodus of white landowners from Zimbabwe.

Then, party loyalists seized and occupied white-owned commercial farms in often violent confrontations, which have been partly blamed for Zimbabwe's perennial food shortages.

The government's reaction this time contrasts with its backing of the seizures ten years ago.

Following those invasions, later formalised as the official land reform programme, the government passed equity laws that compelled foreign companies to cede majority shares to local partners.

Government critics say the laws scare away potential investors from a struggling economy in dire need of foreign money.

Tongaat Hulett, which owns the whole Triangle estate and 50.3 percent in the Hippo Valley plantations, has come under repeated government pressure to give up its majority ownership.

The two operations together produce 640,000 tonnes of sugar a year.

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