By Farai Mabeza
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has found himself at the centre of a land dispute pitting South African sugar conglomerate Tongaat Hulett and some members of the Chiredzi community.
The President was in Chiredzi over the weekend to commission the $600m Kilimanjaro Sugar Cane project.
The Kilimanjaro Project is a joint venture between Tongaat Hulett, government and some financial institutions.
The project will also see 4 000ha of virgin land turned into sugarcane plantations for allocation to indigenous farmers on a cost recovery basis.
The move is meant to provide alternative land for locals who had invaded Tongaat Hullett’s property, but indications from the community are that the illegal settlers are not willing to relocate.
Asked about the future of the invaders, Tongaat Hulett chief executive Gavin Hudson was non-committal.
“This is still work that needs to be worked out. There are no expectations at this moment. We need to work with the communities and the relevant authorities to make sure that in actual fact it’s not about who owns what piece of land.
“It’s about how we grow the crop together and we maximise the potential that this land has,” he said.
However, commissioning the project, President Mnangagwa said the land belonged to neither the local communities nor the company, but the state.
“I would like to make this clear. There should be no quarrel between Tongaat Hulett, traditional chiefs or the local government administration in Masvingo.
“Agricultural land belongs to the state and the head of state is me. So you should not spend time quarrelling amongst yourselves because you don’t own the land,” he said.
The President said that all parties should approach government for land allocation.
“I have told Tongaat Hulett to apply for a 99-year lease as quickly as possible for the land they want and that will be done.
“I have also told the Minister of Provincial Affairs for Masvingo (Ezra Chadzamira) to sit down and say they want X amount of land for their own development. We will grant them.
“The communities around here, around this area, if they want any land they must go first to the Minister of Provincial Affairs who will then consult us and we will grant you land.”
On the Kilimanjaro Project, President Mnangagwa said villagers who want to be part of it needed to follow proper procedures.
“I would want that this programme (Kilimanjaro Project) be completed. No one among you has the authority to say I must be there. We are all Zimbabweans and equally have rights as Zimbabweans.
“Procedure must be followed. Beneficiaries for this project must be agreed upon properly. Those communities around this area who would want to have their people settled should follow procedure,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hudson said that Tongaat Hulett had already applied for its 99-year lease.
“We have already applied for our 99 year lease. So we have been in discussion with government for some time. We don’t feel its restricting our ability to operate in the country,” he said.
The Kilimanjaro Project is expected to be completed in September next year.