As if to paint in blood President Robert Mugabe's claim yesterday that white farmers are "enemies of Zimbabwe", a mob drove up at daybreak to Martin Olds's remote homestead at Nyamandlovu and butchered the cattle rancher to death in a hail of bullets and Molotov cocktails.
Mr Olds's disabled wife, Katherine, whom he had driven to safety in nearby Bulawayo after receiving threats from land invaders, had only this to say: "He was my rock. He was a man of high morals and principles, not only to our family but to the entire farming community."
Yesterday's political murder in Matabeleland, the sixth in Zimbabwe's land wars, sent the signal that President Mugabe's ruling party, desperate to stay in power, had instigated an armed campaign to kill ordinary people. Until now, political activists, such as David Stevens, the white farmer killed in northern Zimbabwe last Saturday, had been the prime targets.
Mr Olds's killing happened only a few hours before the 76-year-old President Mugabe gave a television interview to mark 20 years since the end of white rule. The machiavellian leader had been expected to urge reconciliation and an end to land occupations. Instead, he told white people: "Our present state of mind is that you are now our enemies because you really have behaved as enemies of Zimbabwe. We are full of anger."
Mr Olds, 44, had never been to a political meeting. He was feared in the area - fellow farmers use the word "respected" - because he was a good tracker who was tough on cattle rustlers who tried to poach from his ranch 80 kilometres north-west of Zimbabwe's second city. This father of two teenagers was known for his strength and for having "the gentlest eyes you have ever seen". Four years ago, he won a civic bravery medal for wrenching apart the jaws of a crocodile that had attacked another man.
The Olds's tin-roofed homestead, in flames yesterday, is an unpretentious place with a yard rather than a garden and several old cars in pieces. The plot has none of the suburban-style trappings - bright, tidy flowers, manicured lawns and a pool - with which many white Zimbabwean farmers comfort themselves, as if hoping to forget they are in deepest Africa.
What unfolded at Compensation Farm in the early hours of yesterday was nothing short of a gun battle, between a lone former soldier and about 40 men, allegedly armed with brand new AK47s. Farmers who had kept contact with him until his radio and telephone were cut off early yesterday provided an outline of the unfolding butchery.
Warned five days earlier that he was to be attacked by those who, under the banner of the war veterans association have invaded about 1,000 farms since February, Mr Olds had driven his wife and children, Martine and Angus, aged 17 and 14, to the family's house in Bulawayo. They usually stay there only in term time but he was not taking chances.
Mrs Olds spoke to her husband at 6am yesterday when everything was still quiet. But at around 6.30am he used his VHF radio to call neighbours. A convoy of about 10 vehicles - Peugeot 504s and a new Nissan pick-up - had entered the yard. Shots were heard over the radio.
Serge Finck, a family friend, said: "Another farmer, Guy Parkin, went to help but had to retreat after coming under fire. Within 20 minutes Martin radioed again to say he had been shot, in the leg we think. We called an ambulance which, at 7.20, reached the farm but was turned away at a roadblock.
"By then, Martin's radio and his telephone line had stopped working. We alerted the police. Their station is 10 minutes from the farm. We do not know when Martin died or quite how because it was not until 10am that the police went in and cleared the attackers. As the 10-vehicle convoy left, it was waved through a police roadblock, then disappeared," Mr Finck said.
It is the complicity of the authorities that the farmers find most terrifying, said David Coltart, the legal affairs adviser for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Mr Coltart, a renowned human rights lawyer, said: "All we have left is the international community. This was a planned murder of someone who was not even a member of an opposition party."
Mr Coltart said the tactic was a carbon copy of the terror inflicted on Matabeleland in the early Eighties when thousands of people died - most of them not political activists - as part of President Mugabe's campaign to humble the late Joshua Nkomo's rival liberation movement and force it to come under the umbrella of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF).
Until yesterday, the six-week land invasions campaign had proceeded peacefully in Matabeleland, with small-scale farm occupations and no violence. In the northern Mashonaland, the 20th anniversary of black rule was marked by yet more incidents.
Near Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, one farmer was abducted yesterday but later released, and a farm storage area was burnt down. A number of journalists came under attack with stones when they tried to investigate the arsonattack but encountered an encampment of Zanu-PF supporters on the main Enterprise Road on the outskirts of the city.
Despite reports that President Mugabe was to address war veterans' leaders yesterday with a view to organising peace talks with white farmers, his spokesman said that the meeting did not take place.
The Matabeleland incident seemed, if anything, to have moved white farmers further away from a peaceful resolution to the land wars. John Rosenfels, another cattle rancher, said: "The Commercial Farmers' Union is telling us that we must not resist or there will be a bloodbath. But as far as I am concerned, as a third generation Zimbabwean, I can't just stand there if someone comes to my farm with guns. We have been told the police will not help. Now we are going to start defending ourselves."
External links: Map of Zimbabwe | Advice on Travel in Zimbabwe | Languages of Zimbabwe | Zimbabwe Independent online | Africa News Online | Virtual Zimbabwe | Embassy of Zimbabwe | Official Zimbabwe Home Page | Outrage on Robert Mugabe | Mugabe's sanity questioned |Reuse content