- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe Grace Mugabe turned up last week at John and Eva Matthews' farm north of Harare one of at least 190 white-owned farms that are being handed over to relatives and close associates of President Robert Mugabe.

"I'm taking over this farm," declared the president's wife, surrounded by a coterie of government officials, senior army officers and young thugs from her husband's ruling party the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF.

"We asked her what would happen to us," said one black farm worker, whose identity cannot be revealed for safety reasons. "She replied: 'Go and live by the river over there.'"

To press home the point, the police arrested 78-year-old Mr. Matthews on Saturday.

"I was told I had 48 hours to get off the farm and if they found me here after that they would lock me up straight away," Mr. Matthews said as he loaded his furniture onto the back of a truck.

This week at a Washington news conference, Walter Kansteiner, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, rejected Mr. Mugabe as the "legitimate" leader of Zimbabwe and called on Zimbabweans to "correct the situation."

The implicit call by a high American official for yet another regime change came during a meeting on food aid to drought-stricken southern Africa.

It is not hard to see why Mrs. Mugabe had her eye on the 3,000-acre Iron Mask farm.

Tucked into a valley between two dramatic hills, Iron Mask, founded by Mrs. Matthews and her first husband in 1967, is one of the most beautiful farms in the Mazowe area.

The house itself has oak-paneled interiors, sloping roofs and a commanding view. Pretty cottages on the grounds and two swimming pools add to the attraction.

It is understood that Mrs. Mugabe intends to settle her relatives on the farm.

Mr. Mugabe's land redistribution policy was meant to deliver white-owned farms into the hands of millions of landless blacks, but many of the choice properties are going instead to his friends and relatives.

A list, by no means exhaustive, has been compiled by The Washington Times from information provided by the Commercial Farmers Union and the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture, among other sources.

It shows that at least 190 senior politicians, businessmen and members of the armed forces close to Mr. Mugabe have been allocated farms. Many have been given several farms; one senior member of ZANU-PF party has been allocated seven.

Among the beneficiaries are two of Mr. Mugabe's sisters, his brother-in-law and his wife's nephew. Zimbabwe's two vice presidents, Joseph Msika and Simon Muzenda, have both been rewarded, the latter with two farms.

The outgoing and much feared head of the shadowy Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), Elisha Muzonzini has been given the farm of white opposition lawmaker Roy Bennet.

In Washington, Andrew Natsios, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, sharply criticized the reallocation of white-owned farms to Mugabe relatives.

"So they're not exactly turning these over to poor people," Mr. Natsios told reporters yesterday. "It's a disgusting grab."

During the past few days more than 150 white farmers have been arrested and detained.

They were charged with obstructing the Land Redistribution Act by ignoring an Aug. 10 deadline ordering 2,900 white farmers to leave their lands. Roadblocks have been mounted across the country to search for farmers who have slipped through the police net.

Most farmers have challenged the constitutionality of the evictions in the courts, and a landmark legal judgment last week ruled that the vast majority of the evictions are illegal.

Despite the rulings, police invaded Mr. Bennet's farm during the weekend and arrested and tortured 10 black security guards on his farm. They were taken for questioning at Mr. Muzonzini's CIO headquarters, according to the farm group Justice for Agriculture.

At least 16 of Mr. Mugabe's ministers and members of his all-powerful politburo also have been allocated land.

Others to benefit are the senior government officials in charge of distributing out the farms. Christopher Chingosho, the provincial lands chairman, has been given six.

Since February 2000, ZANU-PF youths, describing themselves as veterans from the 1970s struggle against minority rule, have violently enforced Mr. Mugabe's land-reform policies, killing 12 white farmers and many more of their black farm workers.

Setting fire to more than 10 million acres of crops and preventing cultivation on much of the rest of the farmland, they have precipitated a famine that threatens 6 million Zimbabweans, half the country's population, with starvation, aid workers say.

Up to 300,000 black farm workers have been rendered homeless.

According to pro-democracy groups, at least 30 percent of the white-owned farms were allocated to senior government officials and businessmen connected to the president.

An additional 40 percent, originally given to landless blacks, have in the past few months been turned over to Mugabe cronies.

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