Posted on October 25, 2004

Government Grabs Plantations

Rangarirai Mberi, (Zim.), Oct. 24

The government has seized five plantations owned by Border Timbers, the country’s largest timber producer, ignoring an earlier pact with Germany not to take over the land, and months after it announced that the official land grab was over. A Germany-Zimbabwe Investment Protection Agreement, signed in 1995, ostensibly protects Border Timbers properties from acquisition. Under that agreement, Zimbabwe gave assurances to Germany that Border Timbers’ land would not be targeted for seizure. The acquired Border Timbers land totals just over 34 million hectares. The acquisition order was served on Tilbury, Cambridge, Imbeza, Mahugara and Walmer estates. Shares in Border Timbers swung lower on the news, down 16% on the week to Wednesday at $1100, setting a new downbeat tone for already distressed agro-stocks. This is the second time that Border has had its properties listed for seizure in as many years. In 2002, the Attorney General withdrew acquisition orders on eight Border properties after the firm appealed against listing, backed by the government-to-government pact.

Holders of land served with a Section 8 acquisition order are required to lodge an appeal against the order within five days of publication of the notice of acquisition. Failure to object within that period means the order would be confirmed “unopposed without any further notice”. Occupants of such land would then be required to wind down operations and leave within 90 days. Standard Business understands that Border Timbers has lodged an objection to the acquisition orders, but Managing Director John Gahadzikwa was not immediately available for comment on the matter last week. Ken Schoffield, Chairman of Radar Holdings — owners of Border Timbers — was said to be away in South Africa when sought for comment last week. Border Timbers’ sawmills reputably process more than 350 000 cubic metres of logs each year, and the firm also runs a veneer factory.

In addition to the timber plantations, the government has also taken over Aberfoyle Estates — a major tea exporter — and Eastern Highlands Plantations, one of Zimbabwe’s few producers of washed Arabic coffee, which is mainly for export. The land seized from the two tea and coffee estates measure a combined 2,3 million hectares. More land has also been taken from Hippo Valley, which has lost more of its Mkwasine estates. Recently, government issued Section 8 orders on several sugar estates in the Lowveld co-owned by South African investor Tongaat Hullet and Anglo American Corporation. Government’s latest swoop on land held by agro-industries is a flagrant violation of its own earlier pledges to leave such land untouched under its controversial land reforms. In May, Vice President Joseph Msika — chairman of a Cabinet land reform task force — told Interfresh that he would not support any seizure of land held by investors. Interfresh has 88% of its Mazoe Citrus Estates listed for acquisition, while Ariston and TZI have also had some of their prime businesses taken over. Property holding company Mashonaland Holdings now also has some of its land listed for seizure. Mashold Chairman Abner Botsch has said his company is negotiating with government to have its properties de-listed.