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01 Jan 2002 00:00
President Robert Mugabe has ruled out any possibility of talks with the country’s white farmers, and told them their rights to own property were second to blacks, state radio reported today.
On Wednesday a Harare High Court judge ruled that eviction orders issued by the Zimbabwe government to 54 farmers were illegal and that the owners could return to their properties.
Jenni Williams, representative for Justice for Agriculture, a lobby group for farmers fighting the Zimbabwe government in court, said that “justice has been served” by Judge Benjamin Paradza’s decision.
“These properties have been removed from the acquisition list, and should return to full production, making food and earning foreign currency for Zimbabwe,” she said.
However, Mugabe gave no room for hope for the country’s dwindling number of white farmers when he spoke yesterday in the southeastern town of Chiredzi.
“There is no room for talks, there is no room for negotiations because the real owners of this land are asserting their rights and reclaiming their land,” he told a crowd that included a sprinkling of whites.
“If you want to live with us, to farm alongside us, we, the rightful owners of our ancestral land, will carve out some land for you. But you cannot decide what you will have in our country,” he said.
His remarks came days before the deadline set by him for the conclusion of his so-called “revolutionary land reform programme” and the distribution of thousands of white-owned farms among allegedly “landless” Zimbabweans.
The Commercial Farmers’ Union, which represents the estimated 3 000 white farmers still left in Zimbabwe, has been pleading for discussions with the government to establish farmers’ rights in the midst of the government’s seizure of white land.
Mugabe rebuffed an appeal from them two weeks ago for direct talks with him.
Lawyer Jeremy Callow who represented the 54 white farmers told the court on Wednesday morning said that an anonymous telephone caller in the early hours of Monday and told him if he was seen again in the northern district of Karoi, where most of his farmer clients are, he “would be killed.”
“I was very horrified to receive such a threat,” he told reporters outside the court.
“There seem to be accumulating instances of unlawful conduct against officers of the court.
One would hope this will all come to an end immediately.”
About 200 white farmers have been arrested by police since August 9 when the deadline expired of eviction orders to 2 900 farmers to abandon their farms, while simultaneously scores of other farmers have been illegally driven off by senior ruling party officials claiming prime farming operations worth millions of US dollars for themselves.
Callow said the eviction orders were cancelled for a variety of reasons; in most cases the government had failed to carry out the legal procedures for evictions, while in others the description of the farms on the eviction orders “were so inadequate that the properties described do not exist.”
If the government was determined to force the farmers off their land, they would have to restart the 90-day eviction process, he said.
“They have no choice if they wish to lawfully acquire the farms in issue.
Mugabe claims that the government has resettled 300 000 peasant farmers on seized white land, and that by the end of this month, another 54 000 “indigenous (black) emergent commercial farmers” will have been resettled as well, officially marking the end of the land reform programme.
However, aid agencies and farm union officials say that chaos reigns on most of the country’s once hugely productive commercial farms.
Farm labour unions point out that the occupation of the white-owned farms means that 350 000 farm workers will be made homeless, driven from their homes and jobs.
Many of the farms have been abandoned by the original peasant squatters who began moving on in February 2000 at the start of the notorious farm invasions led by so-called guerrilla war veterans.
Those still there are doing subsistence “slash and burn” agriculture, without any of the inputs of seed, fertiliser and tools promised by Mugabe. Many are faced with starvation, according to interviews with squatters published in the independent media.
Earlier this month, acting lands minister Ignatius Chombo admitted that of the 54 000 “emergent commercial farmers” allocated land, only half had taken up the offer.
Farm union officials say the figure is much lower. Heading the list of ruling party elite illegally laying claim to white land is Mugabe’s 38-year-old wife, Grace, who last week took over a 27-room property, allegedly in the name of a “children’s rehabilitation trust” of which she is the patron. - Sapa
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