Black Zimbabweans rally for white farms

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More than 4,000 white Zimbabwean farmers have left their land since President Robert Mugabe began his seizing their properties under his redistribution" scheme in 2000. But one provincial governor has made an unprecedented attempt to reverse the trend by preventing two white Zimbabweans from being evicted from their land, in a move that has surprised the country's white minority,

Lindsay Guild and his sister Heather were told that they can continue working their two farms near the city of Mutare after a campaign supported by people from all walks of society, including Vice-President Joseph Msika.

Tinaye Chigudu, the governor of the province of Manicaland, of which Mutare is the capital, said the pair made an essential contribution to the community and should be allowed to stay. His ruling thwarted the ambitions of two senior Zanu-PF party members of Mutare City Council, who wanted to seize the plots.

"We are delighted by this and it's a big decision," said Lindsay Guild's wife, Ann. "We are very grateful that we can keep our land. It's a positive move for Zimbabwe and a real step in the right direction.

"Local people know how much we have contributed to the community and we have been happy to. There are people stuck in the 1970s here – not many – but a few with too much hatred and envy. We can all work together for a better country and build a better place."

Mr Guild and his sister, who is single, each farm about 40 hectares on neighbouring properties in the Burma Valley near Mutare. Their parents emigrated from Britain to the north of the country but the family later moved to the east.

Mr Guild and his wife used to have two farms but were gave one up under the Mugabe reforms. In 2004, half their remaining land was seized by Irene Zindi, the deputy chairman of Mutare City Council. She then sought to take over the rest of it, while the council chairman, Fungai Chaeruka, tried to appropriate Heather Guild's farm. That will not now happen.

Hundreds of the Guilds' supporters, including black farmers, peasants and even members of the ruling party, Zanu-PF, protested outside the farms in defiance of militias armed with clubs and batons. Moses Chatora, a peasant farmer, said: "The Guilds help us. They taught us how to grow tobacco from seedlings and how to market it. A lot of people here have made a lot of money because of the Guilds." Only 400 white farmers remain in Zimbabwe out of an estimated 4,500 before Mr Mugabe's reforms.