ZIMBABWE: Mugabe supporters grab university land

Three supporters of President Robert Mugabe have moved to grab huge chunks of land belonging to a state-run university in a matter that has since spilled into the courts. This comes a decade after the African dictator launched a ruinous agrarian reform exercise.

The three Mugabe loyalists - Boas Urayayi (a soldier), Elikanah Mtshanga and Munashe Gurumani - claim the government allocated them up to 950 hectares of land belonging to Great Zimbabwe University.

The institution is located in the country's oldest town, Masvingo, known as Fort Victoria before Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1980. Each of the three claimants is demanding slightly more than 300 hectares of the land.

But the institution of higher learning maintains that legally the disputed land belongs to it.

In an interview on Tuesday, Great Zimbabwe University Vice-chancellor Professor Obert Maravanyika told University World News that its case with Urayayi was the only one due in court this week, but was cancelled when government averted the take-over by allocating the soldier alternative land.

"We went to court yesterday, but Urayayi signed affidavits to withdraw the claims after government allocated him alternative land. This is a dynamic situation. Some of the other people who are coming to claim the land are saying the land used to belong to them. That is the challenge we have here," Maravanyika said.

In a separate interview, Gurumani claimed he would do everything in his power to take over the land and described the university as an "illegal settler" on his property. The third claimant, Mtshanga, could not be reached for comment.

In 2000 Mugabe launched a populist and bloody campaign to take over white-owned farms in Zimbabwe, at a time when his now 31-year-old uninterrupted rule faced its fiercest threat - the formation of the (then) opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

In the 2008 general elections, which saw Mugabe's agents murdering hundreds of opposition members, the ZANU-PF leader was defeated by Tsvangirai but declined to cede power, necessitating the formation of a unity government in which Mugabe remains a domineering president with Tsvangirai as prime minister.

The land grabs and state-sponsored violence prompted sanctions from the European Union, the US and Australia, with Sydney going a step further by deporting the children of those on its sanctions list studying at its universities. The most notable of these were the children of Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri, and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Gideon Gono.

Mugabe's party adopted new hardline resolutions at its conference last December, with a resolution for further land grabs, which may have influenced a new wave of attempts to take over properties, including the university property.

The party also resolved that the Zimbabwe government would take counter-measures against foreign companies, institutions and entities whose home countries maintain sanctions against Mugabe and his inner cabal - a move that threatens the operations of international companies operating in the country including BP, Total, Chevron, Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and platinum giant Zimplats.

The party said the government should also expel envoys promoting the "West's regime change agenda" and interfering in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe, and should deregister NGOs allegedly acting as "conduits of regime change".

Last week Attorney General Johannes Tomana - who has also been blacklisted by the EU and US for political persecution of dissenting voices through prosecution on trumped-up charges - announced the setting up of a six-member commission of enquiry to look into "suspected constitutional infringement bordering on conspiracy by several Zimbabweans arising from WikiLeaks reports".

The state-run Herald newspaper, a mouthpiece for Mugabe's party, reported that the prime minister is among the suspects.

The book by Ian Scoones et al, Zimbabwe's Land Reform: Myths & Realities (Oxford 2010) presents a different picture of the land reform that would enable a distinction to be made from the editorial line of the international news agencies (AFP, AP, Reuters, and so on).