At least 300 workers have been left stranded after Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe reportedly took over a farming estate from a listed company to build a private hospital, secondary school and a university.
President Robert Mugabe’s wife, famed for her extravagance, recently seized 1,600 hectares of Mazowe Estate, which is owned by Interfresh, one of the biggest orange producers in the country.
She already runs the Grace Mugabe Children’s Home and Gushungo Dairy Project on adjacent farms seized from white commercial farmers during the government’s controversial land reform programme.
“The Mugabes want to leave a legacy by creating this massive project which is going to cost millions of dollars,” an unnamed government official told The Standard newspaper.
Chinese contractors are reportedly on the site at the estate west of the capital Harare.
Three hundred full time workers at the estate have already been told to leave their homes to make way for new employees.
Another 300 seasonal workers are also said to be unsure of their future as the takeover is happening in the middle of the summer cropping season.
“Her guards slashed some maize to mark the boundary between her land and of Interfresh,” the paper quoted one of the estate’s employees saying.
“She now owns the maize crop that is on her side of the estate. We heard that she intends to build a secondary school.”
The First Family also want to revive an adjacent game reserve that was run down after the land reform programme.
The takeover of the Mazowe Estate makes President Mugabe’s family one of the biggest land owners in Zimbabwe following the controversial land reforms.
There have been reports that the First Family owns 14 farms across the country.
Two years ago President Mugabe disputed the reports saying he only owned three farms including one which he bought before the reforms began.
A land audit proposed at the onset of the inclusive government to smoke out multiple farm owners has been on ice because of opposition from the veteran ruler’s Zanu PF party.