Bloody invasions revisit Zimbabwe

An elderly victim of the latest wave of land invasions in Zimbabwe is still recovering in hospital two weeks after his wife was bludgeoned to death and he was left for dead, allegedly by war veterans.

Farmer Neville Austen (77) says he cannot recall exactly what happened in the attack. This week Austen, his face black and blue, with a deep gash above his left eye, was a pitiful sight as he lay in a ward at the Avenues Private Clinic in Harare.

John Worsley-Worswick, of the Justice for Agriculture group, said he was shocked by the “extreme violence” used against the couple.

The renewed attacks on farms came just weeks before a SADC tribunal ruling, which found that the government had illegally seized land belonging to 78 farm owners, as well as the signing of a power-sharing agreement between President Robert Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Those close to the Mugabe government have been in a rush to secure additional assets since the signing of the deal, which many feared would herald the end of farm seizures.

On Saturday a group of war veterans vowed to continue takeovers of white-owned farms, defying the SADC tribunal ruling and an appeal by the opposition for them to leave the farms.

Last week the tribunal ruled that the 78 applicants have “clear legal title [to their farms] and were denied access to the judiciary locally”. It found that the land seizures were illegal because the government had discriminated against the applicants.

It ruled that the land must be returned to three of the 78 farmers who have already been evicted and that no action may be taken against the remaining applicants.

Didymus Mutasa, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Minister, has rubbished the ruling. “They [the tribunal] are day-dreaming, because we are not going to reverse the land reform exercise,” Mutasa told the media in Harare.

“There is nothing special about the 75 farmers and we will take more farms. It’s not discrimination against farmers, but correcting land imbalances.”

The MDC criticised Zanu-PF’s reaction: “It is important to note that Zanu-PF has shown consistency in its brazen disregard of the rule of the law,” MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said. “But it would be going overboard for any credible government to describe a ruling by a regional court as ‘daydreaming’.”

The murder of Mary Austen has driven dozens of other white farming families to seek safety in Harare, a representative of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union said.

According to a union official, the attackers are now said to be prowling the Midlands area, kicking out the 400 remaining white farmers.

Police have said any action against the armed invaders could end in violence.

Meanwhile, a war veteran leader vowed to continue to occupy hundreds of white-owned farms.

“If there are human rights, we have right to our land,” said Jabulani Sibanda, leader of the National Liberation War Veterans Association, a group that has led farm invasions. “The redistribution of land is a non-negotiable issue. There are people who died for this.”

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