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Wednesday, 5 April, 2000, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Eyewitness: Forced off the farm
Dutoit farm
The Dutoit farm: Taken over
By Gavin Hewitt in Karoi, Zimbabwe

We are outside Pierre Dutoit's farm in Karoi, north-west of Harare.

It is just one of hundreds of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe which has been taken over by government supporters.

"We are the new owners here," a man with a stick tells us. He is at the farm's gates with 150 men with axes and clubs. We are unable to film them, because they tell us they will turn their axes on us if we try it.
Rex Jesus
Rex Jesus seems to be above the law
There is little farm owners can do. Squatters in farm after farm insist that they must sign over part of their land. The courts have declared these occupations illegal, but they have the backing of President Robert Mugabe.

Suddenly, the man behind the farm invasions in this area, Rex Jesus, arrives. His companions are all carrying long knives. He has links to the ruling party and seems to operate above the law. He enters the farm, amid shouting and chanting.

The Dutoits are given just 10 minutes to leave their farm - the first time a white farmer has been evicted.

It comes less than a week after President Mugabe had threatened severe violence against them.
Dutoit
Mrs Dutoit: "Everything we've worked for"
As the Dutoits stop to speak to us, the squatters appear, angry and threatening. We, too, had to leave. A short distance up the road, we find the shaken couple.

"I am very upset," says Mrs Dutoit. "We've waited for 17 years. Finally we've been able to buy a farm, we got the certificate of no interest from the government, and now this.

"It's everything we've worked for our whole lives."

Growing fears

As the story of one of the Dutoits' workers reveals, some of these incidents seem more about the forthcoming election than land. He says he was beaten by Rex Jesus for supporting the opposition, and President Mugabe is blaming the white farmers for backing his opponents.
Farm workers demonstrate the beating they received
Farm workers demonstrate the beating they say they received
Ten miles away, men with axes are squatting on another farm. A threatening crowd had demanded the owners sign over part of their farm, but they refused.

Farm owner Jane O'Donaghue says: "My concern is that really this is just the start of it. There could be a lot worse than this to come."

There is a real issue about land here - 4,000 white farmers own a third of the most productive land. But they believe that President Mugabe, in a bid to stay in power, is playing the race card, making the whites the issue.

As white farmers look out on their dream land, they, like others in Zimbabwe, are beginning to doubt whether whites have a future under African skies.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"The occupations have the backing of President Mugabe"

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See also:

03 Apr 00 | Africa
07 Jan 00 | Africa
06 Mar 00 | Africa
15 Feb 00 | Africa
01 Apr 00 | Africa
02 Apr 00 | UK Politics
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