Land grabs start again

01 September 2009 - 21:38 By Moses Mudzwiti
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ZIMBABWE's few remaining white commercial farmers are living in terror as pressure mounts for them to make way for new black landowners.

Under cover of darkness, hired thugs are being deployed in farming areas to intimidate and hound farmers off their land, it is claimed.

"It is purely racist," Trevor Gifford, president of the Commercial Farmers' Union, told The Times at the weekend.

A decade ago, Zimbabwe had about 4 000 commercial farmers, nearly all of them white. Today only 400 white farmers remain.

Gifford said he feared that the government was accelerating its efforts to take over the remaining commercial farms.

This has happened despite a new unity government being sworn in last month.

"They want to remove all the white farmers from the land."

During his 85th birthday celebrations last month, President Robert Mugabe said the remaining white farmers must "vacate" their land.

Mugabe has vowed that he will not compensate white farmers for the land. They might be compensated - at less than 10 percent - for improvements on the farms.

Mugabe says compensation for land must be shouldered by Britain.

In recent weeks, state land officials have "fast-tracked" the evictions, Gifford said. "We have a copy of a letter from the attorney-general instructing magistrates and government land officers to clear the land for new owners."

He said eviction methods vary from intimidation to bribery.

The modus operandi remains the same: "new owners" arrive at a farm gate accompanied by land department officials armed with "take-over documents".

In some instances, hired thugs are used to intimidate farmers.

The farmers' union said that white farmers would be arrested by the police "for defending their properties".

Hermanus Grove, a commercial farmer in the Midlands area, said that for several days a small group of hired thugs camped outside his Inogo ranch, near Kwekwe.

"They told me they were here to take over the farm and a further bus load of people will be following shortly," said Grove in an affidavit.

"They drank beer and feasted, and sang and chanted." He said that after a few hours "the number had risen to about 40.

"The gang caught my maize guard, stripped his clothing off, took his ammunition and house keys, beat him, then proceeded to his house, chased away his wife and took his shotgun."

Grove has been arrested but illness saved him from a certain jail term. "I was released on bail and was due to appear in court the next day for trial," said Grove.

Grove is expected back in court on Thursday. He will be opposing a state-sponsored order to vacate his ranch.

It is claimed court officials have asked for US$25000 from Grove for the case to "go away". The Commercial Farmers' Union is investigating the allegation.

In Karoi, farmer Andrew Herbst was fast-tracked through the courts and sentenced to six months' in prison, suspended on condition that he vacated his property within seven days.

Gifford said he was concerned at the speed at which farmers were being convicted.

The latest land grabs have not escaped the attention of the new Prime Minister, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has strongly condemned them and called for an end to the wanton lawlessness.

Last week, representatives of the Commercial Farmers' Union met officials of the International Monetary Fund and presented a report on commercial farming in Zimbabwe. The IMF delegation was assessing the country's economy ahead of a possible resumption of financial assistance.

Gifford said the land grabs had so far targeted about 100 of the remaining 400 white farmers.

ýAFP reports that a deputy mayor from Tsvangirai's party was freed without charge yesterday after being detained over violence in the country's main eastern city, a party spokesman said.

"Mutare deputy mayor Admire Mukorera was released without charge," MDC MP Pishayi Muchauraya said.

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