HARARE – President Robert Mugabe on Monday urged blacks to produce food on farms seized from whites saying his government was tired of “begging for food”, the first time the Zimbabwean leader has admitted a link between his controversial land reforms and food shortages in the country.
Addressing thousands of supporters gathered to commemorate fallen heroes of Zimbabwe’s 1970s independence war, Mugabe said: “If farming is not in your blood, switch to what you are good at. We want those with land to use it. We don’t want to keep begging for food.”
Zimbabwe has grappled severe food shortages since Mugabe began seizing land from whites six years ago for redistribution to landless backs in what he said was a mission to correct a colonial and unfair land tenure system that reserved more than 75 percent of the best land for whites while blacks were crammed on infertile and arid soils.
But most of the farms seized from whites remain idle because new black owners, most of them senior officials of Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF party and government, would rather spend time in cities than out on the land.
Failure by Mugabe’s government to support black peasants allocated former white farms with inputs and skills training to maintain production has also contributed to food output dropping by about 60 percent since the farm seizures began.
Mugabe used both threats and persuasion to try and coax new black farmers to work the land, warning those who fail to heed his call to up food production that the government would repossess farms from them. He said: “Those with land should use it to prove they were interested in farming in the first place. Those who can’t produce, be warned, we will take the land back.
“We now need to distinguish capable and committed farmers from holders of land who are mere chancers and who should be made to seek opportunities elsewhere.”
The Zimbabwean leader also hit out at corruption in high places both in the government and the private sector which he said was hindering attempts to resuscitate the economy.
“These economic saboteurs and enemies of our economic-turnaround strategies should take heed that we are determined to fight the scourge of corruption and do honour to the integrity and dignity of our nation,” Mugabe said.
Zimbabwe’s food shortage has been compounded by an economic crisis that picked up pace after Mugabe began his farm seizure programme in 2000.
The economic crisis has spawned shortages of electricity, essential medical drugs, fuel, hard cash and just about every basic survival commodity, while inflation is the highest in the world at 993.6 percent.
But Mugabe warned the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party not to hold mass protests against his rule, saying all Zimbabweans should instead plough their energies into helping the government turn around the dying economy.
The MDC says it will mobilise Zimbabweans onto the streets to demand that Mugabe steps aside to pave way for a transitional government that shall be tasked to lead the writing of a new constitution and organise fresh elections under international supervision.
The veteran President, who has in the past deployed soldiers and police to quell dissent, has however vowed not to allow a Ukraine-style uprising against his rule, telling MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai mass protests against the government would be a “dice with death”. – ZimOnline