Zimbabwe Government Rules out Talks with White Farmers over Land
The Zimbabwe government Tuesday ruled out any possibility of engaging in dialogue with a white farmers' union over its controversial land resettlement program for poor blacks.
"We are not negotiating on the land question. The land question is a political question," Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Minister Joseph Made told state radio.
"The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) in the exercise of acquiring land is not relevant," Made said. "What is relevant is the individual owner of a piece of land that government intends to acquire for purposes of land resettlement."
The minister's comments come ahead of a special congress next week of the 4,500-strong CFU, called in a bid to find a way to break the impasse with government over the land dispute.
Negotiations last year between the CFU, government and veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation war who have led the invasion of hundreds of white-owned farms collapsed within months.
The CFU leadership has been partly blamed for the breakdown of the talks, but government said no change of leadership will affect its stance on the land issue.
"We will not negotiate with the CFU even after their special congress on March 21 because the union is not a government but part and parcel of the Zimbabwean community," Made was quoted as saying Tuesday by the state-run daily, the Herald.
"We are the government and we will not negotiate with the union over land. We know the CFU wants to enter politics, as seen by their actions. We will not be taken for a cheap ride by the CFU."
The CFU last year successfully challenged in court President Robert Mugabe's plans to resettle poor blacks on five million hectares (12 million acres) of white-owned farmland.
But Harare ignored several rulings of the High Court, which found the government had failed to follow its own laws.
Police, meanwhile, ignored a court order to evict thousands of war veterans who last year invaded some 1,600 white-owned farms during a violent, government-backed land grab.
Made said even if the predominantly white CFU was reformed through the appointment of a few black people, it would not be representative enough of the interests of millions of Zimbabweans hungry for land.
In reports carried in the state media, the government said it no longer had time for the CFU and had closed negotiations due to unfulfilled promises.
Government claims the CFU never followed up on its offer of 200 farms for resettling landless blacks, saying this showed lack of seriousness.
No comment could immediately be obtained from the CFU.
The need for land reform is widely accepted in Zimbabwe -- by blacks and whites -- to correct colonial-era inequalities.
Some 4,500 whites own 70 percent of Zimbabwe's prime agricultural land, or 30 percent of the total farmland -- a legacy of British colonial rule.
Whites make up just 70,000 of Zimbabwe's nearly 13 million population -- HARARE (AFP)
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