Farm evictions all over again

A new wave of land invasions has rocked Zimbabwe, with at least five farmers being forced off their proper-ties in the past week. Armed militiamen, accompanied by the police, army and the Central Intelligence Organisation, have been behind a spate of evictions in the Manicaland district.

Among those uprooted is David Wilding-Davies of the Ashanti farm who scooped the 2004 Coffee Grower of the Year Award for both quality and price. “I’m sorry I can’t talk to you, it’s too difficult for me,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

The only doctor in Chipenge town is also leaving after she and her husband were evicted from their farm, Destiny. Petra Baum Gatner told ZimOnline that she was forced to discharge sick patients and close down her Chipinge Trust Clinic because she had to leave the area. Fifteen workers, who had helped run the clinic for the past seven years, have also been left jobless.

In one incident, a group of armed men stormed the Brackenrich tea and coffee farm in Chipinge, 500km east of Harare, just before midnight on Tuesday. The distraught 68-year-old farm owner, Gideon Mostert, and his wife were forced to round up their belongings and vacate the land.

The police barred neighbours from entering the premises. At around 4.30am the couple were escorted off the grounds, leaving behind farming equipment and goods worth over R1-million. “I’m old, but will have to try and get another job. My wife is traumatised but trying to cope. My life’s savings are on the farm. It’s all I had,” Mostert lamented as he sat in the cottage of a friend who has offered him accommodation.

“What is heart-wrenching is that I had just started harvesting my coffee when all this happened,” Mostert told the M&G on Wednesday. “Now they will get all that and the proceeds that will follow.” On the farm are 20ha tea, 25ha coffee and a 50ha gum-tree plantation.

The latest land grabs sparked outrage from Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono. “Whoever is doing it is not doing it in the interests of the country, or even foreign currency generation. I don’t care who is doing it. It must stop,” fumed Gono, who is desperate to procure forex to settle the country’s debt with the International Monetary Fund and raise reserves for imports.

But the government seemingly does not share Gono’s concerns. Last week, Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa warned that “there will be a mopping up exercise with those farms that escaped the net”. Following the signing into law of constitutional amendments, which, among others, deny farmers legal recourse for seized land, Chinamasa said the Registrar of Deeds is now “obligated to immediately cancel all title deeds in respect of agricultural land that becomes state property”.

Deputy Minister of Finance David Chapfika also indicated this week that the government would have to renege — for now — on its promise to pay compensation for farm develop-ments because the amount of money required was too much.

Despite receiving legal fees, estimated to be about R12-million, to contest the acquisition of farms since 2000, law firms can’t do anything for their clients after the recent constitutional changes effectively invalidated their claims. They are now considering taking the matter up with the International Court of Justice at The Hague. More than 4 000 white commercial farmers, some 200 being South African nationals, had lodged papers with the administrative courts.

Chris Botha (not his real name), who was evicted from his farm in Mashonaland West, said he and other farmers are lodging in flats in Harare. “We are farmers, there is nothing else we can do. We are not willing to leave; we prefer to be part of the economic recovery programme and continue farming,” said Botha.

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