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The BBC's Mike Williams
"This might appear to be a conflict between blacks and whites"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 20:18 GMT 21:18 UK
Black Zimbabweans rescue white farmer
Paul and Liz Retzlaff of Zimbabwe
The Retzlaffs hid in a farm office and radioed for help
Black farmworkers in Zimbabwe came to the aid of a white farmer and his wife, who were facing an attack by black squatters.

The farm owners, Paul and Liz Retzlaff, said they appealed for help by two-way radio when a gang of about 20 militants charged through the gates of their farm near the capital, Harare.


Zimbabwe farmer and worker
Some black farmers have been attacked too
The mob smashed windows and tried to break in.

As the besieged farmers took refuge in a farm office about 200 black workers from surrounding farms responded to the appeal for help and arrived on the scene within 15 minutes.

They chased the militants off and beat some of them.

The police confirmed shots were fired, but said there were no injuries.

Farmer 'humbled'

The black workers said they came to the rescue because if the farm was taken over by the militants they would lose their jobs.

They said that the militants were supporters of President Robert Mugabe, who is interested in his own political future rather than their future employment.


President Mugabe of Zimbabwe
President Mugabe is expected to announce a date for elections next week
Mr Retzlaff himself said he was humbled by the support of the black workers.

He added that the incident exposed the claim that the land dispute was a simple one of black versus white.

Since February, thousands of squatters have occupied around 900 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe.

The police have refused to carry out eviction orders, and human rights groups accuse President Mugabe of failing to enforce the country's laws.

Celebrations postponed

Meanwhile, the government has cancelled next week's celebrations to mark 20 years since the end of white rule.

A spokesman said the money would be spent on helping flood victims in the country.

President Mugabe - who is currently in Cuba attending the G-77 summit - is expected to address the nation next Tuesday.

Many are expecting him to use the speech to set an election date.

His support for the militants has given them the encouragement to seize farms and intimidate owners.

But whites, and large sections of the black population, believe that President Mugabe is using the land issue to attract popular support ahead of those elections due in the next few weeks.

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See also:

11 Apr 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe edges towards election
11 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Mugabe is 'ethnic cleansing'
10 Apr 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe 'powder keg' warning
10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Cook demands 'rule of law' in Zimbabwe
10 Apr 00 | Africa
Kenyan land grab call
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