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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Zimbabwe's white farmers prepare for worst
White Zimbabwean family
Zimbabwe's white face a bleak outlook

As ever, Zimbabwe's land reform programme is mired in confusion.

But it does seem likely that Monday's deadline is a major step towards President Robert Mugabe's goal of redistributing farmland from whites to blacks.

People are making the rules up as they go along

Jenni Williams, CFU
The white-dominated Commercial Farmers' Union says that 2,900 of its members are obliged by the law to stop farming immediately.

However, a CFU official who wished to remain anonymous told BBC News Online that the true figure was closer to 2,000 as the remaining 900 farmers have only received preliminary notices of the government's intention to acquire their farms.

And Agriculture Minister Joseph Made has been quoted as saying that only 10% of farmers are affected - around 300.

Lawyers are busy trying to interpret the legislation but they too all have their interpretations.

Thick skins

So far, many of the farmers are carrying on with their work as what passes for normal on Zimbabwe's farms.

They have developed thick skins in the past two years and many will probably wait until the police start taking action before they park their combine harvesters for good.

White farmers
2,900 must stop farming
500 have given up land
One court case won by the government
95% of white-owned farms listed for acquisition
CFU membership down by 30%
Source: CFU

But as before, President Robert Mugabe's militant supporters may not wait for the authorities before they take matters into their own hands.

"We're living in a climate where people are making the rules up as they go along," CFU spokeswoman Jenni Williams told BBC News Online.

On top of the breakdown of law and order in Zimbabwe's farming districts, the confusion stems from the numerous changes made to the Land Acquisition Act and the complex procedures set out before the government can acquire a farm.

Complex procedures

But whatever the precise number of farms affected, this is a major intensification of the land reform programme.

Since 2000, the government has taken over around 500 farms - and these were given up to the government by their owners, a farmers' representative told BBC News Online.

President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe based his election campaign on land reform

Monday's deadline comes from the latest change to the law, made last month, which attempted to simplify matters and bypass legal procedures.

Most farmers who have received official notices that the government intends to acquire their land have appealed to the courts.

A CFU official said that the government had only won one case - largely because the civil servants were not meeting the series of legal deadlines set out in law.

And even that case has gone to appeal.

No haggling

But while the majority of Zimbabwe's white farmers are still able to work, many have already started packing their bags.

Membership of the CFU has already slumped by 30% - to 3,200 from 4,500 just two years ago.

Our members may not be happy with what they've got but they have got something

CFU official

"We're anticipating another big drop this year," said the CFU official.

But amidst the confusion, many people will be surprised to hear that some of those who have given up their land have been paid for it.

The farmers have said from the beginning that they would be willing to let go of their land if they receive adequate compensation.

President Robert Mugabe has repeatedly promised to pay for improvements such as buildings and irrigation systems - but not for the soil itself.

And this money has been forthcoming, according to the CFU.

"Our members may not be happy with what they've got but they have got something," the official said.

He said that many did not try to haggle with the government because the value of the Zimbabwe dollar is falling so sharply that they would just lose out even more through any further delay.

The BBC's Gillian Ni Cheallaigh
"Anyone refusing to down tools could face two years in prison"
Jenni Williams, Commercial Farmer's Union
"It's unlikely a majority of farmers will down tools"

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See also:

15 May 02 | Africa
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