Zimbabwe Gives Chinese and Angola One Thousand Hectares Of Land

All grandiose talk of housing construction from Mugabe's government so far has been nothing but hot air. Private developers, people like Philip Chiyangwa, for instance, with his Pinnacle Properties, tend to do a much better job. But now Mugabe has decided to make yet another grand announcement about handing over a thousand hectares to the Angolans and Chinese to build whole towns. I am sure it is the last time we will hear about it, although the Chinese are likely to take the land anyway and do something else with it.

Harare, Zimbabwe, 28 December 2009

Zimbabwe's government (still a ZANU PF government now getting Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC to do its bidding), has given a Chinese/Angolan company - Sonangol - one thousand hectares of land, purportedly to build new towns around the capital Harare.

The land, in Mt Hampden (which Cecil John Rhodes' European settlers first targeted as the capital of a new Rhodesia or Zambezia) and Mazowe, is imply just a gift at the moment and the Minister of Local Government and Mugabe ally, Ignatious Chombo, says the Chinese are yet to even inspect the land to see if it is suitable. The government of Zimbabwe appears confident that it is.

Sonangol, which to all intents and purposes is being used by President Dos Santos of Angola to invest some of his country's immense oil wealth in Zimbabwe, announced a couple of months ago that it had signed a US$8 billion deal with the Zimbabweans to invest in everything from infrastructure, oil and gas exploration and other areas of if interest.

The signing ceremony for that massive investment deal was turned into a purely ZANU PF affair, with Mugabe's men in attendance and Morgan Tsvangirai's people barred from even being present. ZANU PF wanted credit for this all to itself 0 another arrow in their election quiver.

Late last year, as Zimbabwe tottered on the brink of disaster, in the grip of a political crisis that was solved only by the co-option and swallowing of Morgan Tsvangirai into the Inclusive ZANU PF Government now governing Zimbabwe, I asked you to watch carefully the relationship between Mugabe and Angola, ZANU PF and the MPLA (ruling party in Angola).

This latest development confirms my observations from back then. Consultations between Mugabe and Dos Santos have now taken on immense proportions and barely a week goes by without a ZANU PF minister being in Angola. The latest visit was by Emmerson Mnangagwa, Minister of Defence and Mugabe heir-apparent.

As I pointed out back then, Angola is run pretty much by the military, with a civilian facade fronted by Dos Santos himself. Armed forces men, Generals and the like, have penetrated all facets of civilian rule and run the most important aspects of Angolan administration.

This is hangover from the conflict years that saw Dos Satos fight a bitter war against apartheid South Africa and the West. In all but name, Angola was, throughout that period, run by martial law, as tends to happen during wars that threaten the existence of a state.

By default, the presence of the military in the corridors of civilian power consolidated power around Dos Santos, who is almost a recluse now and rarely attends conferences, keeping as largely out of sight as Mugabe does.

With the Angolan president having been in power longer than Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president looks to him as a sort of instructor and this is why Zimbabwe's administration is being militarised. The latest and most blatant example of this was the injection of military men into Boards running the media in Zimbabwe. (Tsvangirai was not consulted on this and has had to live with it).

The US$8 billion deal is now being openly sold by ZANU PF through the state media as the fruits of Mugabe's "Look East Policy", launched four years ago. In so doing, ZANU PF is contrasting this with the failure by Morgan Tsvangirai to bring in any investment or significant aid from his Western allies.

Still, knowing how ZANU PF operates, it is quite clear that they have not thought through this town-building exercise and are leaving it to the Chinese to do the city planning and the other details.

Almost certainly, these new towns, if they are ever built, will be isolated and will stagnate, cut off from the vibrant capital and unlikely to be linked to it by any form of reliable transport. The idea that these towns can become dormitory towns like Chitungwiza, in which Harare workers will live and commute to their jobs, is likely to prove a mere pipe dream.

Sonangol's strength lies in oil and gas exploration, extraction and marketing and it is likely that it will not give the twon-building project due attention. But we may well be surprised.

Chombo makes it clear in his announcement that this is yet another ploy by ZANU PF to influence voters and a desperate bid to hang to its position as Zimbabwe's ruling party.

Housing remains on the failures of Mugabe's regime since independence. Just as Mugabe believed and told ministers that his job was not to create employment in Zimbabwe, he also did not put much thought or consideration into meeting the housing needs of an expanding population.

The townships of Zimbabwe remain overcrowded and the infrastructure, such as sewage and water treatment, are failing to cope.

This pressure needs to be alleviated as a matter of urgency by modernising the towns and cities, but the task is beyond both Mugabe and his new plaything: Morgan Tsvangirai.

Still, all we can do is watch. By the time of the next elections, it is a safe bet that this grandiose project will still be a castle in the air, a figment of Chombo's imagination.

Lets talk again in 2011.



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