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Friday, 9 March, 2001, 13:52 GMT
Violence haunts white farmers
A sign at a farm near Harare reads:
"War veterans" are blamed for the wave of killings
By BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala

The plight of the white farmers in Zimbabwe has been brought back into sharp focus by the killing of Gloria Olds in early March.

The 68-year-old Mr Olds had refused to leave her family farm after her son was murdered last year by self-styled "war veterans" loyal to President Robert Mugabe.

Kathy Olds
Kathy Olds, at the funeral of her husband Martin
The killing of Mrs Olds is only the latest, brutal event in Zimbabwe's deepening political and economic crisis.

She is the eighth white Zimbabwean to die in the political violence that started in February last year. About 35 black Zimbabweans, mostly opposition activists or supporters, have also been murdered.

'Shocked and horrified'

Mrs Olds was shot early one morning as she opened the gates of her heavily barricaded farm. She died in a hail of bullets from a machinegun, which also killed her three dogs.

[Gloria Olds] was a target. I don't believe that it was an unfortunate chain of events... She was Martin's mother, and they are reverting to their intimidation attacks

Kathy Olds, widow of Martin
"The community was shocked and horrified by the cowardly manner in which an innocent lady was murdered here," Mike Woods, a white Zimbabwean who owns a farm near Bulawayo, told the BBC.

Neighbours and members of the opposition are in no doubt that the murder of Mrs Old was a political murder - carried out by supporters of President Mugabe.

The president is pursuing a process of land reform that includes the confiscation of land from white farmers.

Opposition figures say that the murders are tolerated, if not encouraged, by the authorities.

President Robert Mugabe
President Robert Mugabe on a recent state visit to Paris
"She was a target. I don't believe that it was an unfortunate chain of events... She was Martin's mother, and they are reverting to their intimidation attacks," Kathy Olds, the widow of Martin Olds, told the BBC.

Behind the crisis and the murders is a genuine political grievance that Mr Mugabe has turned into a rallying call for his supporters.

White Zimbabweans own and farm the vast majority of the country's best farmland.

Twenty-five years on from the war of independence, this inequality has not yet been redressed.

Police investigation

In the past, police investigations into the murders of white farmers have barely been pursued. There have only been a few arrests and no convictions despite a number of the killers being widely identified.

Why should we be expected to leave purely because we are white? We are Zimbabweans, and we intend staying here

Mike Woods, white Zimbabwean farmer
Mike Woods believes that the police are pursing this murder investigation seriously.

"They are investigating it definitely. I personally have not had a lot of feedback, but I have seen them around. They have been questioning people, asking for information, and I do feel that something is definitely being done."

Attacks on the independence of the judiciary, including the forced retirement of Zimbabwe's chief justice, have further compromised the legal protection available to white Zimbabweans and opposition members.

Opposing Mugabe

In last years parliamentary elections, the white farms put their support firmly behind the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the opposition party that made substantial gains but was not able to dominate parliament.

Zimbabwean's queuing to vote
Last year's parliamentary elections saw big gains by the opposition despite widespread intimidation
David Coltart, a white Zimbabwean member of parliament and spokesperson for the MDC is reported in recent days to have gone into hiding after receiving death threats.

The atmosphere of danger and threat has driven many white Zimbabweans away - Kathy Olds is now seeking asylum in Britain.

However, many other farmers are determined to stay.

"We are Zimbabweans. We have been accepted as Zimbabweans all our lives. And why should we leave? We have nowhere else to go, we have no other home and our families are here with us. Why should we be expected to leave purely because we are white? We are Zimbabweans, and we intend staying here," Mike Woods said.

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | Africa
Forced to flee Zimbabwe
10 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Zimbabwe's descent into violence
26 Oct 00 | Africa
Mugabe under pressure
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