President Robert Mugabe’s decision to stop the expropriation of Tongaat Hulett (Tongaat)’s sugarcane fields in the Lowveld was influenced by diplomatic pressure from South Africa’s government, analysts have said.
This comes after hundreds of illegal settlers invaded sugar estates owned by the Zimbabwe units of South Africa’s Tongaat Hulett.
Mugabe ordered police to remove about 600 families who had moved onto sugar estates owned by Tongaat’s Hippo Valley Estates and Triangle Sugar in southern-eastern Zimbabwe.
“Why would you want to take everything from white farmers? Get virgin land and stop being greedy. Surely, you cannot harvest where you did not sow,” Mugabe said in an unprecedented warning at a recent youth interface rally in Masvingo.
Economic analyst Francis Mukora said Mugabe — who has sanctioned the invasion of more than 4 000 white-owned farms since 2000 — was pressured by the South African government to protect its companies in the country.
“Mugabe cannot afford to upset the South African government which has helped to prop up his regime,” Mukora said.
Tongaat and other South African companies such as Zimplats, Mimosa and Unki mines operating in Zimbabwe are protected by bilateral trade agreements between the two countries.
However, the sugar producer has been a target of land invasions by Zanu PF heavyweights who wanted to annex part of the company’s 4 000 hectares of land.
Seasoned economist John Robertson said Mugabe’s policy inconsistencies did not bode well for the economy.
“There’s nothing new on the Tongaat issue. This has been the case with Mugabe since well before independence when those who pleased him got favours while those who crossed his path were punished,” he said.
Robertson said the Zanu PF leader still believes that some people deserve more protection than others, especially those who have earned his patronage.
“However, this destabilises investors as they are not sure what will happen to their investment when they accidentally annoy him,” added Robertson.
Apart from sugarcane production, Tongaat also produces ethanol from cane sugar for local consumption as well as stock feed. It employs over 10 000 people.
The company, which started its operations in KwaZulu-Natal, also has presence in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Daily News