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Wednesday, November 25, 1998 Published at 23:47 GMT

World: Africa

Zimbabwe faces farming anarchy

Farm workers have been attacked by frustrated squatters

By Africa Correspondent Jane Standley

The Zimbabwean Government faces chaos on its farms over a plan to redistribute land owned by 800 white farmers, which trade unions claim is a ploy to distract attention from economic crisis.

[ image: Wayne Parham: 'When will I be a Zimbabwean?']
Wayne Parham: 'When will I be a Zimbabwean?'
On Wednesday the trade unions called off a strike in order to give President Robert Mugabe's government one month to tackle the country's worst ever economic crisis and to instigate political reform.

The economy is in free-fall and while prices have rocketed the Zimbabwean dollar has all but collapsed.

In response the unions organised a series of mass stay-aways and want a 20% increase in wages.

Jane Standley reports from Harare as squatters take the law into their own hands
But they also accuse the increasingly unpopular government of distracting attention from the mess by issuing land acquisition orders.

More than 800 white farmers - who stayed on in the country after the end of the war which saw Rhodesia become Zimbabwe - could lose their land.

Zimbabwe's largest export industry and provider of half a million jobs is tobacco farming. And nearly all of the crop is grown on huge commercial farms owned by white Zimbabweans.

Wayne Parham's family have farmed their land for three generations but after a year of arguing with the government he has just been served notice that his land is to be taken.

[ image: The Dambaza family are tired of waiting for land redistribution]
The Dambaza family are tired of waiting for land redistribution
He supports land redistribution but insists that there must be proper compensation.

"If they really want this farm, ok, that's fine. Pay me and that's it - we'll have to go somewhere else and do it somewhere else. It's not that I'm on the best soil or the best rainbelt or anything," he says.

Zimbabwe's landless black poor are celebrating already. They have moved on to lush, fertile white-owned farms which their government has told them will soon be theirs.

They are squatting - and the next people on Wayne Parham's land could be the Dambaza family.

Like most black farmers they are struggling to grow enough to eat on a tiny dry plot and so men like Constantine Dambaza have led their neighbours onto nearby white farms to squat and plant crops.

Moving in on the land

He rallies the squatters with the rhetoric of the war which turned Rhodesia into independent Zimbabwe 18 years ago. Promises of land for all were made then.

"The war has been won, so the freedom from hunger is we have to get the land, utilise it and feed our stomachs"

[ image: Police move in to uphold the law and evict squatters]
Police move in to uphold the law and evict squatters
But the squatters still face the law, and it is upheld. Constantine and his fellow protestors have been taken off to jail and the land they had sown with their own maize is replanted with tobacco.

Nobody in Zimbabwe is arguing about the need for land reform - the issue has been on the agenda since independence.

But the government's timing is questionable. Discontent with its rule is greater than ever before and uncertainty in the countryside is likely to generate more instability.

Wayne Parham is worried that the real issue is political and partly the legacy of a war fought between black and white.

"When is it going to be alright to buy a farm and actually develop the farm and not be perceived as a white guy who's got a lot of land and the poor blacks haven't.

"There's got to be a time when I'm just perceived as a Zimbabwean who's trying to better the living standards of everybody."

That time will only come when black Zimbabweans are satisfied that more of their land belongs to them.

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