The land grabs that drove thousands of white farmers and their black workers off their land in Zimbabwe over the past decade were the "best thing that could ever have happened to an African country", according to President Robert Mugabe. In an interview with CNN television in New York late on Thursday, a defiant Mugabe (85) defended the controversial land-reform programme, saying: "Zimbabwe belongs to the Zimbabweans, pure and simple." Mugabe was in the US to attend the United Nations General Assembly, where he was due to give a speech on Friday. While most of the white farmers that were thrown off the land are also Zimbabweans, Mugabe said the expropriations were justified because the farmers are mostly descended from British settlers, who took the land from black Zimbabweans during the colonial era. "They occupied the land illegally. They seized the land from our people," he said. Mugabe also defended his economic record, saying Western sanctions and not his mismanagement were to blame for the country's demise. The US and European Union in 2002 slapped Mugabe and his inner circle with travel bans and asset freezes. Mugabe, who was forced to cede some of his powers to his arch-rival, former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, after being beaten in elections last year, said the sanctions were "unjustifiable". Although Mugabe's powers have been circumscribed by the power-sharing deal that made Tsvangirai prime minister in February, the US and EU say they want to see more reforms from the new government -- including an end to ongoing land grabs -- before lifting the measures. Mugabe also lashed out at South Africa's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has called Mugabe the caricature of an African dictator. "He doesn't know what he's talking about, the little man," Mugabe said angrily, accusing Tutu of "devilish talk".