Thursday, 3 August 2017

TONGAAT TELLS FARMERS : WE DON'T WANT YOUR CANE

HUNDREDS of farmers who last year seized 4 400 hectares of sugarcane fields from Tongaat Hulett in Chiredzi are now in a quandary after the agro-industrial giant refused to buy their crop.

The farmers, mostly ZANU-PF loyalists, occupied the fields on the strength of offer letters they got from the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement early last year.
The move triggered conflict, with the company disputing the occupation of its land, which is protected under a bilateral trade agreement with South Africa.

Minister of State for Masvingo province, Shuvai Mahofa and Psychomotor Minister, Josiah Hungwe, were accused of leading the land grab, which saw President Robert Mugabe travelling to Chiredzi to personally mediate in the dispute.

During the visit, Mugabe ordered the withdrawal of the offer letters. The farmers however refused to vacate the cane fields. They went to the High Court to oppose the withdrawal.
Currently, there is a deadlock between Tongaat Hullet and the 220 farmers as the company, which owns Zimbabwe’s two sugar processing plants at Triangle and Hippo Valley Estates, insists that it cannot buy its own crop.

The company was emboldened by Mugabe who spoke against the settlers at a rally in Masvingo last month. At the rally, Mugabe clearly stated that it was wrong for people to settle on Tongaat Hullet’s cane fields, and urged occupants to find and develop virgin land if they needed to grow sugarcane.

Information obtained by The Financial Gazette this week indicates that the company refused to give the settlers milling accounts, essentially closing them out of the sugarcane market. The settlers also did not have growers’ numbers to prove their legitimacy as sugarcane growers.

The settlers are now helplessly watching the crop wasting away in the fields as the harvesting season goes into full swing.

They have turned down a compromise proposal by the sugar milling firm to harvest the crop
and pay them for the period they looked after the crop after invading its property.

“The President has made it clear that those farmers should leave but they have decided to fight it out in court. Now they find themselves with nowhere to sell the crop since they do not have milling quotas,” said Chiredzi East legislator, Denford Masiya, whose constituency encompasses the sugarcane fields.

Tongaat Hullet corporate affairs executive, Adelaide Chikunguru, declined to comment on the issue.

“Kindly refer issues to the relevant authorities, the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement,” she said in response to questions sent to her via email.
Efforts to get comment from Lands and Rural Resettlement Minister, Douglas Mombeshora, were fruitless as he did not answer calls on his mobile phone.

Sources from the Lowveld said the settlers last week approached Vice President Emmerson Manangagwa when he went there to officiate at an event, which was organised by the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in the province.

“The Vice President told the settlers that he was not in a position to address that issue since the President had personally assigned Ministers Mombeshora and (Industry and Commerce Minister) Mike Bimha,” said a government official who declined to be named.
Mombeshora is under fire for issuing the disputed offer letters, which he subsequently withdrew.


Bimha has oversight over the operations of Tongaat Hulett and is also the custodian of the bilateral trade agreement that protects the enterprise from expropriation under the country’s controversial land redistribution exercise. financial gazette

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