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Last Updated: Friday, 16 December 2005, 12:18 GMT
Zimbabwe army 'moves onto the land'
By Sue Lloyd Roberts
BBC News

Zimbabweans scavenging for food
Many Zimbabweans are now scavenging for food

In an attempt to rescue his failing programme of land redistribution, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is trying to involve the army in a "command agriculture" programme.

"Instructions have already been passed onto battalion commanders," a Zimbabwean army major told the BBC.

Five years after Mr Mugabe ordered the seizure of the white-owned commercial farms, agricultural production has halved.

Mr Mugabe has admitted that the people to whom he gave some 4,000 farms have some responsibility for the country's current problems.

"Mugabe is now saying that the people who are on the farms are opposition supporters and that they are sabotaging the country. He says the army must take over," the major said.

"This is an idea which Mugabe got from China, where the army is used in agriculture and industry".


The major risked his job and his life in talking to us. We met on a street in the capital, Harare, late at night and interviewed him in the safety of a car, away from the eyes and ears of Zimbabwe's network of informers.

Zimbabwean soldiers
For farming, you need experience and commitment. The army has neither
Roy Bennett, former MP

I asked the major whether he believed the idea would work.

"I don't think it will because soldiers are not trained for farm work," he says.

"They're trained to fight. They don't have the skills. It's out of desperation that he's doing this. It will not work."

Others I spoke to in Zimbabwe agree. John Robertson, the country's foremost economist, pointed out that "the idea has been tried out in China, North Korea and Stalin's Russia and look where it got them."

Roy Bennett, a former opposition MP who lost his farm in the recent seizures, describes the scheme as "a non-starter".

"For farming, you need experience and commitment. The army has neither."

Many soldiers and other officials have already been given land individually under the land reform programme.


A country which once exported grain must now import 80% of its foodstuffs.

A Zimbabwean malnourished child in a hospital bed
Children are dying of malnutrition

The hospitals are filled with malnutrition cases with the very old and the very young the worst affected.

Surrounded by children suffering from HIV and in the advanced stages of malnutrition, Dr Julie Kanaki, who works at a mission hospital near Bulawayo, says, "the situation is hopeless and getting worse".

The hospital puts children on an emergency feeding programme, releases them but they are back within weeks because, the doctor says, their parents have "no meat, eggs, beans, sugar or milk".

Food queues

In the town, the queues for basic foodstuffs are getting longer.

The soldiers cannot afford the most basic food stuffs. Soldiers are really pissed off
Zimbabwean army major

In cities like Harare and Bulawayo, people line every street in the hope of a shipment of grain, mealie-meal, flour, oil or sugar.

With inflation at 600%, a loaf of bread now costs $85,000 Zimbabwean dollars.

"Our wages have not gone up in a year," the major says. "The soldiers cannot afford the most basic food stuffs. Soldiers are really pissed off."

Will there be a mutiny in the army?

"No," he replies. "Government informers are everywhere in Zimbabwe, including in the army.

"The soldiers want to rebel, but it is impossible."


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