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Thursday, 15 August, 2002, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
White farmers under siege in Zimbabwe
Unidentified white farmer in Marondera
Farmers refuse to turn their backs on their land
Tension is mounting in Zimbabwe as pro-government militants attempt to force defiant farmers to leave their land.

President Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe's land reform

  • 2000: 4,000 whites own 70% of prime land
  • 1890-1980: Black peasants were moved to less fertile areas during the colonial area
  • March 2000: "War veterans" occupy white-owned farms
  • 2000-2002: Several white farmers and black workers killed during violence
  • 9 August 2002: 3,000 white farmers must leave their homes

  • An estimated 2,900 white farmers should have left their houses by midnight last Thursday, according to a recently passed law.

    A white farmer became the first to be evicted from his property after a group of militants seized his farm north of the capital, Harare.

    In a separate incident, Hazel Thornhill returned to her farm in the eastern district of Marondera after spending a few days away and found her property occupied.

    But most of them are reported to have stayed put, waiting to see what action would be taken against them.

    The government, however, says that the attacks have been staged in order to increase international pressure on Zimbabwe.

    "We are fully aware of the gimmick that is going on and these impostors are being made to pose as if they were war veterans," Lands and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made told state television.

    Terry Hinde left his farm in the northern area of Bindura on Wednesday evening after his house was surrounded by militants armed with clubs and stones, a farmers' spokesman said.

    Bindura is one of the area's where support is strongest for Mr Mugabe and his centrepiece policy of redistributing land from white to blacks.

    Click here to read the diary

    A member of the family, Christopher Hinde, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that police were called to the farm but did not intervene.

    "Settlers surrounded our house from 0700, ranting and raging, and were there for five hours," he said.

    Urgent appeal

    In southeast Zimbabwe, five farmers left their land early on Tuesday after local officials, police and soldiers warned them that they were violating the eviction orders, the Associated Press news agency reported.

    In another incident, a farm owner and his workers in the Banket tobacco and corn district were shot at by a militant in an effort to drive them away, a farmers representative said.

    Four other farmers were said to be under pressure from militants to leave.

    The farming group, Justice for Agriculture, says the farmers would make an urgent appeal to the courts.

    The group's spokesperson, Jenni Williams, said some of the farmers were leaving "for safety reasons".

    Last week, a High Court ruled that farms which were mortgaged could not be acquired unless the bank had been informed.

    On Monday, Mr Mugabe repeated that all farmers must leave this month, so that black farmers could move in and prepare the land before the rainy season begins in October.

    Production down

    Foreign donors say the land reform programme has contributed to Zimbabwe's food crisis.

    Up to half of the population - six million people - need food aid this year, aid agencies say.

    Mugabe flag on farm
    Many white-owned farms have been invaded in the past two years

    Since March 2000, many white-owned farms have been occupied by government supporters.

    Eleven white farmers have been killed, along with an unknown number of their black workers.

    The disruption to farming has dramatically cut production of the staple food, maize, and Zimbabwe's major export - tobacco.

    Much of Zimbabwe's best land is owned by whites as a result of colonial-era policies.

    The BBC's Craig Swan
    "Mr Mugabe presents his land reforms as righting the wrongs of the colonial past"

    Key stories





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    12 Aug 02 | Africa
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