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Wednesday, 1 March, 2000, 17:37 GMT
Tempers rise over Zimbabwe's farm occupations
veterans at a farm
The government deny orchestrating the farm occupations
By Joseph Winter in Harare

Veterans of Zimbabwe's war of independence are moving onto white-owned farms throughout the country and claiming the land for themselves.

They say they fought for the land and now they have come to take it. Nearly 50 farms have already been affected and more invasions are happening all the time.

They're killing the goose that lays the golden egg

CFU's Jerry Grant
Physical violence has been minimal so far but what is most worrying the farmers is that the police are refusing to take any action, saying it is a political issue.

Jerry Grant from the Commercial Farmers' Union said the police have been instructed not to carry out eviction orders, while the Home Affairs Minister told him such orders were "provocative".

police at a farm
Police have taken a hands-off approach
"If that's provocative, what do you call dancing, drinking and playing the drums all night on someone's veranda and then asking for breakfast in the morning?" wonders Dr Grant.

He complained that "the police aren't behaving like policemen".

Down on the farm

On Idaho farm, about 50km from Harare, a group of 20 scruffily-dressed men and women were camped outside the gates, cooking their lunch of "sadza", maize-meal porridge.

Why should one man have three farms to himself


Some were holding axes, picks and hoes.

A spokesman said: "Why should one man have three farms to himself, while nearby 500,000 people are crammed together like sardines?"

Land ownership is extremely unequal in Zimbabwe, with 4,000 whites holding much of the country's best farmland.

Organised action

But these invasions are not spontaneous actions by land-hungry peasants - people are being transported around in buses.

angry vet at farm
The unequal distribution of land has long been an explosive issue
The group outside Idaho farm contacted their leaders on a mobile phone before speaking to the BBC.

The government has denied it is behind the invasions but some senior members of the ruling Zanu-PF party openly support them.

Agrippa Gava, director of the Zimbabwe National War Veterans Association, closely allied to the ruling party, says this action is happening now because of the recent referendum defeat of a draft constitution.

This would have enabled the government to seize white-owned farms without paying any compensation.

Zanu ... are now lifting high the land and racism issues to win back the votes

Opposition leader Margaret Dongo
He said that if this had been passed, people would have been reassured that the long promised land redistribution programme would have gone ahead. But now, he says, they have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.

Opposition parties have accused Zanu-PF of orchestrating the invasions to exact revenge on the white community for voting No in the referendum.

Margaret Dongo, the leader of the Zimbabwe Union of Democrats and former member of the ruling party said: "Zanu-PF is aware that its support base has diminished, that is why they are now lifting high the land and racism issues to win back the votes."

She also claimed that the police would have been more assertive, if farms belonging to cabinet ministers had been targeted.

Bloodshed fears

Jerry Grant says that this is not even about land, claiming that "there's no shortage of government land but it's all being leased to officials from party and government".

He also points out that tobacco farmers earn 30% of Zimbabwe's foreign currency.

This is currently in extremely short supply, leading to severe fuel shortages.

He says farmers should be helped at such a time but instead, "they're killing the goose that lays the golden egg".

Similar invasions happened two years ago and petered out after a couple of months.

With some Zanu-PF officials worried about the party's future and elections looming, there are fears that this time, it will be much more serious and could lead to bloodshed.

Agrippa Gava menacingly says that if any farmer reacts to the invasions with violence, "he won't make it to the airport".

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