By Helen Kadirire
President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday said the country will not return land seized from former white commercial farmers almost two decades ago.
“It is now behind us, it is irreversible,” Mnangagwa said in a speech to mark Heroes Day commemorations at the National Heroes Acre in central Zimbabwe, broadcast on television.
He said “the land reform programme was one of the fruits of the liberation struggle” and since it is “now behind us, it is irreversible.” He said “the task ahead is to fully utilise the land to increase agricultural production.”
Zimbabwe embarked on a violent land reform programme in 2000, taking over white-owned farms to resettle landless blacks.
Thousands of white farmers were forced off their land by mobs or evicted, with Mugabe saying the reforms would help black people marginalised under British colonial rule.
Critics blame the land redistribution for the collapse in agricultural production that saw the former regional breadbasket become a perennial food importer.
The government has indicated it will issue 99-year bankable leases to beneficiaries of land reform and Mnangagwa on Saturday said land owners must be more productive.
“Our land must be productive. We must mechanise and modernise our agriculture,” he said, adding that the land reforms were “irreversible”.
He said: “Let us move forward with the same determination and single mind, after all we share the same dream for the country.”
He said his government’s top priority was to revive the ailing economy.
It was the first Heroes commemorations since independence in 1980 that did not feature the former 94-year-old ruler, Robert Mugabe, who was forced to step down after the military seized power last November in a soft coup.
The new leader of the ruling Zanu PF party, who secured a marginal victory in the July 30 presidential elections, polling 2,46 million votes against 2,15 million for 40-year-old opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, presided over yesterday’s celebrations, also attended by his two deputies Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi, who was walking with the aid of crutches.
The minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, Obert Mpofu, was the director of Ceremonies.
The second Monday of August is reserved for National Heroes’ Day, to remember those who fought and perished in the struggle for independence from British colonial rule. The heroes of the nation are honoured every year at the national shrine, where some of the soldiers from the revolution are buried.
People laid down wreaths on their grave sites, and Mnangagwa also paid his respects.
“This day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the role played by our national heroes of the liberation struggle. We remember the sacrifice of the sons and daughters of Zimbabwe who died for the country, we remember their great sacrifice for our freedom and independence,” Mnangagwa said. DailyNews