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Mugabe at UN food summit, as Zimbabwe goes hungry

Zimbabwe agriculture continues to suffer as Mugabe seizes farms of white and black alike.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and behind him, his wife Grace, at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization food security summit in Rome, Nov. 17, 2009. (Alessandra Tarantino/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — There were wry smiles at many Zimbabwean breakfast tables this week when it was announced in the government press that President Robert Mugabe is attending the Rome summit of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Zimbabweans — black and white alike — see the irony of Mugabe grasping at the chance to attend an international conference where the theme is food security. Mugabe's policies have turned Zimbabwe from a nation with bountiful harvests to a country perennially dependent upon international food aid.

Nobody has done more to wreck Zimbabwe’s post-independence record of food production than Mugabe. Under his direction one of Africa’s most productive agricultures has been transformed into a wasteland. Vast acreages of corn, fruit and horticulture have been seized, plundered and in many cases willfully destroyed by Mugabe’s supporters. Forests have been cut down and river systems polluted as the president’s land redistribution policies have wreaked havoc on the land.

As if enough damage has not been done, the violent seizure of the few remaining white-owned farms continues. And about 152 of the estimated 400 remaining white commercial farmers have been prosecuted recently for continuing to occupy their homesteads and farm their land. This while Zimbabwe is dependent upon handouts for its destitute rural population.

White farmers such as Ben Freeth in Chegutu, southwest of the capital Harare, and his wife’s elderly parents have been badly beaten by Mugabe’s thugs and their bones broken for refusing to leave their home.

“It appears there has been no move to re-establish the rule of law,” Freeth declared last week, “and there have been no repercussions for the perpetrators or even investigations into police participation in lawlessness.”

Freeth’s invective is directed more at Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s failure to act decisively than Mugabe’s predictable rampage. Even black resettled farmers suspected of opposing Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party are having their farms repossessed and given to the 85-year-old leader’s adherents.

The anarchy on the land is impacting negatively on food security, employment and economic growth, Freeth pointed out as Mugabe strutted upon the international stage in Rome.

After much prodding by Zimbabwe’s regional neighbors in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Tsvangirai has returned to cabinet meetings following his boycott of the government of national unity over Mugabe’s failure to honor terms reached last year.