Zimbabwe illegal settlers occupy Tongaat's sugar estates

HARARE Thu May 22, 2014 3:39am EDT

HARARE May 22 (Reuters) - Hundreds of illegal settlers invaded sugar estates owned by the Zimbabwe units of South Africa's Tongaat Hullett this week, but production was not affected, government and company officials said on Thursday.

Lands and Resettlement Minister Douglas Mombeshora said police were removing about 600 families who had moved onto sugar estates owned by Tongaat's Hippo Valley Estates and Triangle Sugar in southern Zimbabwe.

"We do not allow that. This is why police have moved in quickly to put an end to the invasions," Mombeshora told Reuters.

The southern African country made world headlines in 2000 when thousands of invaders occupied white-owned farms with the blessing of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, leading to a collapse of commercial agriculture.

A spokeswoman for the two Tongaat estates, Adelaide Chikunguru-Musvovi said "the matter is being dealt with appropriately by authorities and operations are continuing as normal."

Triangle is wholly-owned by Tongaat, which also has a 50.3 percent stake in Hippo Valley.

The two estates' sugar mills have a combined milling capacity to crush nearly 5 million tonnes of cane annually and produce over 640,000 tonnes of sugar. Their refining capacity is 140,000 tonnes per annum.

In October 2012, the government gave Hippo Valley and Triangle two weeks to submit a plan detailing how the companies planned to sell 51 percent of their shares to locals under Mugabe's black empowerment drive, or face forcible seizure.

The government has not followed through on the ultimatum.

Tongaat's estates in Zimbabwe have contracted about 700 black farmers who supplied 850,000 tonnes of cane in the half year to September 2013. Plans are underway to contract another 600 farmers. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa)

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