Five Zimbabwe farmers in court for defying Mugabe

Five white Zimbabwean farmers who defied an order by President Robert Mugabe’s government to quit their land appeared in court on Friday, while others were threatened with arrest unless they left their farms by day’s end.

The farmers who appeared in court in this southwestern town — Dudley Herbert Rogers (52) Thomas Garvin Connolly (57) Lucas Cornelius Vanvuuren (66) Peter Johannes Cloete (49) and James MacDonald Crawford (42)– were the first to face prosecution after ignoring a government deadline for them to vacate their land.

That deadline expired last week.

The five had their cases remanded to next month and were allowed to remain on their properties while their cases are heard in the courts.

Rogers was remanded to appear in the same court on September 6, while the other four are to return to court on September 16. They were not asked to enter pleas. A sixth farmer was due to appear on Friday in a separate district court, in Filabusi, about 50 kilometres northeast of Gwanda, which is some 550 kilometres southwest of the capital.

Police arrested the six defiant farmers on Thursday and released them the same day after taking statements from them.

Their lawyer Aziz Abie sought 5 000 dollars ($90 US) bail for each, which the court granted.

The farmers looked exhausted and worried in the small but packed courtroom.

Riot police were deployed outside the court to keep a group of suspected war veterans in check.

Veterans from Zimbabwe’s war of independence have spearheaded the often violent invasions of white-owned farms that began in 2000 under Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme.

Some 60% of an estimated 2 900 farmers ignored government eviction notices that took effect last week and remained on their land, which has been earmarked for resettlement by landless blacks.

The government said on Friday it was losing patience with farmers defying its order and warned that it will crack down on them in the next few days.

”We have lost our patience with defiant farmers and the time has come for us to act,” Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo was quoted as saying in state-run daily The Herald.

”We cannot allow them to hold the whole nation to ransom at a time when the beneficiaries of the land reforms are supposed to be preparing for the next agricultural season,” said Chombo.

”We are considering a number of options to ensure that the land redistribution programme that we embarked on is not unnecessarily derailed by some defiant white commercial farmers,” he said.

Mugabe had said on Monday his government would stick to its deadline to hand over white-owned lands to black farmers by the end of August.

A new farmers’ advocacy group, Justice for Agriculture (JAG), said farmers in other parts of the country have been warned to leave their properties by end of the day Friday or face arrest.

”Communications have also been received from Mashonaland Central and East (provinces) that groups of people comprising police, war veterans, and land ministry officials have been visiting farmers indicating that the farmers are to leave by Friday 5pm (1500 GMT) or face arrest,” said JAG in a statement.

JAG said initial reports indicated that there could be as ”many as 50 who could be vulnerable” to legal prosecution.

Farmer Terry Hinde on Wednesday became the first white farmer to be forced from his land by black settlers since the government eviction deadline passed.

But the government on Thursday accused white farmers of stage-managing their evictions as part of a wider anti-Zimbabwe campaign. – Sapa-AFP

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