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Thursday, 7 September, 2000, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
Zimbabwe minister snubs farmers
Some of the CFU delegates
Nearly 700 CFU members waited in vain for the speech
By BBC's Grant Ferrett in Harare

The annual Congress of Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers Union ended in confusion on Thursday after the minister for land and agriculture failed to attend to deliver his traditional address.

Nearly 700 delegates who had gathered for the meeting in Harare appeared surprised and disappointed that the minister, Joseph Made, did not turn up.

The delegates suggested calling on the UK to intervene, or to appeal for the services of an international arbitrator such as the former South African President, Nelson Mandela.

On Wednesday, the farmers announced that they had resumed their legal challenge to the government's attempts to seize their land without compensation.

Minister's calendar

The union President, Tim Henwood, said it was the first time in living memory that the relevant minister had failed to speak to the conference.

President of Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers Union, Tim Henwood
Tim Henwood: Minister had "a more pressing engagement"
Addressing the two day event is traditionally one of the most important events of the minister's calendar.

Mr Henwood suggested ironically that perhaps the minister had a more pressing engagement.

But relations between the mainly white farmers' union and the government have deteriorated sharply since President Mugabe and his ministers gave official backing to the illegal occupation of commercial farms in the run-up to parliamentary elections in June.

Survival plan

The failure to evict squatters, combined with a listing of thousands of white owned farms for redistribution to government supporters, threatens to completely undermine the entire economy.

Commercial agriculture is the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy, earning more foreign currency and employing more workers than any other sector.

Faced with a breakdown in the rule of law, and a refusal to enforce court orders, the farmers are desperately trying to formulate a survival plan.

But their biggest problem, as they were reminded when the land and agriculture minister failed to show up for their annual congress is that the government is not listening.

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See also:

02 Aug 00 | Business
Zimbabwe devalues currency
01 Aug 00 | Africa
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Summit backs Zimbabwe over land
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Who owns the land?
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