‘Operation on land barons not meant to punish citizens’

GOVERNMENT has expressed concern over people who are settling themselves illegally on urban and rural agricultural State land and others who are illegally selling the land, but reiterated that the operation targeting land barons is not aimed at punishing citizens.

Further, Government says it is concerned over attempts to tarnish its image by those “bent on inciting hatred and despondency”, through circulating videos of burning houses that are from as far back as 2018.

This was revealed in a joint statement released last night by the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Dr Anxious Masuka, Local Government and Public Works Minister Winston Chitando, Acting Minister for Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Ziyambi Ziyambi and National Housing and Social Amenities Minister Daniel Garwe.

The ministers said the Government successfully implemented the Land Reform Programme from 2000, culminating in the settling of thousands of households on A1 and A2 farms.

The farmers are contributing to the success of the agro-policy and food self-sufficiency of the country, with several productivity records for maize, tobacco and wheat shattered, especially since the coming of the Second Republic in November 2017.

In the statement, the ministers said in terms of the Land Commission Act and the gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act, it is illegal to occupy rural State land without lawful authority in the form of an offer letter, permit or a lease.

They added that it is also illegal for any person who is not authorised by central or local government to sell, lease or offer a lease with an option to purchase State land or council land.

“Government’s position has been consistently clear that there has to be an orderly and legal settlement on the land,” reads the statement. “However, it has been noted with concern that there are people who are settling themselves illegally on urban land as well as rural agricultural State land and others who are illegally selling the same.”

Realising the prevalence of cases where people were illegally resettling themselves on State or council land, Minister Masuka issued statements on November 28 last year and January 3 this year, advising the nation that State land was not for sale and applicants should follow correct procedures to be allocated land. 

Minister Masuka’s statement was then followed by statements from various Ministers of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution. 

On Tuesday this week, Minister Chitando issued another statement buttressing the same, with reference to urban land and specifically Ward 16 of Harare City, which covers Mabelreign suburb. 

In that statement, Minister Chitando said it was illegal to occupy greenways or parcel out State or council land without authority, for whatever purpose.

Police and the Ministry of Agriculture then instituted a joint operation on January 10 to deal with land barons and irregular settlements. 

So far, the operation has led to the arrest of over 3 700 land barons while several illegal settlers were interviewed by the police to facilitate investigations. 

In last night’s statement, Government insisted the operation was not intended “to punish or remove citizens from their homesteads as is being depicted but to restore order in the allocation and management of State land”.

“We have noted with concern the attempts to tarnish the Government by those bent on inciting hatred and despondency,” reads the statement in part. 

“For the avoidance of doubt, the video circulating of burning houses is from an incident in 2018 and is not related to the current operation. This incident was investigated and corrective action taken. 

“Apart from this and on similar lines, we are aware of other videos circulating on social media which, again, are intentionally calculated to discredit the current operation to restore order in the allocation and management of State land. Some of the videos are even from beyond the borders of Zimbabwe.

“Government is committed to ensuring that all its citizens are settled in an orderly manner on allocated land. In that regard, members of the public are advised to report any suspected cases of land barons and illegal settlements to ZRP hotline telephone numbers 0242 771874 and WhatsApp 0712 800 197 or the nearest Lands Office.”

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