President Robert Mugabe’s government is re-routing large swathes of farmland grabbed from former commercial white farmers under a controversial fast track land redistribution programme to Chinese nationals.
Government launched the controversial land reform in 2000, purportedly to resettle thousands of land hungry blacks, the majority of who, however, ended up on rocky and infertile land while the well-heeled got prime plots.
The Chinese farmers, who are not well-documented for farming, have invested millions of dollars into tobacco production.
In Mashonaland Central province that enjoys rich soils, Mugabe’s government has allocated at least five farms to the Chinese.
It was not immediately clear whether the Chinese nationals, who government has over the years given preferential treatment under its Look East policy, had received farms in other provinces.
The new Chinese farmers are reportedly paying huge amounts of under-the-desk money to top politicians to farm.
They have bought equipment worth several millions of dollars to help with tobacco farming.
Mugabe regards China as an “all weather friend” even though there is no evidence that Beijing prioritises Harare in its foreign policy.
Since 2000, hundreds of Chinese nationals have made Zimbabwe their home, setting up retail, mining, farming, construction and other businesses.
Locals, though, complain that their Chinese employers treat them badly by underpaying, assaulting, and sometimes sexually abusing them.
The fast track land redistribution programme was dismissed by critics as a rushed and populist policy by Mugabe’s Zanu PF to woo back disgruntled voters after the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in late 1999.
It was followed by steep drops in agricultural production and the shrinking of agro-based commerce, while Zimbabwe was internationally isolated as it was felt the programme was racist and undermined the former commercial white farmers’ property and human rights.