/ 28 May 2009

Zim continues with crackdown on white farmers

President Robert Mugabe’s controversial ”land reform programme” took a new twist on Wednesday when a court ordered the eviction of a man who is not a farmer.

Ian Campbell-Morrison (46) lives in the Vumba Mountains in eastern Zimbabwe, next to a hotel where he is the green keeper. He and his wife live in a cottage on a plot not much bigger than a suburban garden, where she tends flowers.

The Campbell-Morrisons used to farm tobacco and coffee, but the government seized their land and the farmhouse and gave it to a government official, leaving the couple their cottage and the garden around it, said Hendrik Olivier, director of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, made up mostly of Zimbabwe’s remaining 350 white farmers.

A magistrate in the nearby city of Mutare nevertheless sentenced Campbell-Morrison to a fine of $800 for ”illegally occupying state land” and ordered the couple to be off the property by Saturday.

The Campbell-Morrisons are one of 140 white farming families facing eviction from their land in the latest tactic in Mugabe’s violent, lawless campaign to force white landowners — numbering about 5 000 when it started in 2000 — off their farms.

The action is in the name of a redistribution of land to black Zimbabweans,but which has instead made a million former farm workers homeless and set off the collapse the once-prosperous country’s economy.

Mugabe has declared all white-owned land to be state property and banned farmers from taking the government to court.

The evictions and violence have continued despite the establishment in February of a power-sharing government between Mugabe and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, with an agreement to restore the rule of law and to ”ensure security of tenure to all land holders”.

Tsvangirai, now prime minister, began by promising to end the lawlessness, promising that ”no crime [by invaders] will go unpunished,” but the police — under the control of staunchly pro-Mugabe security chiefs — continued to refuse to act against the mostly well-heeled Mugabe loyalists grabbing productive farms and selling their crops.

Western governments have refused to provide finance for the recovery of the country’s economy from world-record inflation and decimation of production under Mugabe, until there are ”clear signs of reform” in the re-establishment of the rule of law. The restoration of peace and security on the farms is cited as a key condition.

But there was shock this week when Tsvangirai, referred in an interview to ”isolated incidents of so-called farm invasions” that had ”been blown out of proportion”. Said a Western diplomat: ”He’s talking like Mugabe now.”

Throughout Tuesday night on Mount Carmel farm in the Chegutu district, farmer Ben Freeth and his family were terrorised by a mob of invaders who rolled blazing tyres at their thatch-roofed homestead.

At the weekend, an 80-year-old woman was assaulted by police, who were removing her son from his farm. On Friday, another farmer was beaten by a Mugabe supporter.

”There has been absolutely no resolution or even recognition that there is even a problem,” said CFU president Trevor Gifford, who is trying to stop a government official cutting down what is left of his timber plantation, and is selling it to the government of neighbouring Zambia for telephone poles. Gifford is due to appear in court on Friday for ”illegally occupying state land”.

”This is happening in a country that has become the world’s most dependent on donors for food,” he said. ”Until this government respects the rights of its own citizens and investment agreements, no one will look at this country.” – Sapa-DPA