Farmers' union splits over tactics to oppose Mugabe

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The commercial Farmers Union, which has fought to save Zimbabwe's white-owned farms from President Robert Mugabe's land grab, has split.

Opinion among white farmers has been divided between the hawks, who favour the mobilisation of aggressive international action against the Mugabe regime, and the doves, who still believe they can negotiate with the Zimbabwe government to save their remaining land holdings.

The split in the CFU was revealed by its regional chairman for Matabeleland, Mac Crawford. He announced that the Matabeleland chapter of the CFU had split from the organisation in protest against its weak leadership strategies.

Some white farmers are also claiming that President Mugabe's regime has launched another exercise aimed at confiscating their remaining land - "Operation Sweep Clean".

The Mugabe regime has already seized 95 per cent of all white-owned land. Only about 400 farmers remain on their land from an original 4,500.

Despite declaring that his land confiscations ended last year, President Mugabe's government has in the past few weeks said that more white farms are up for seizure.

And regardless of the President's recent order that his cronies surrender extra farms and retain one each, but this has not happened.

There are disputes over the carve-up of seized farms. Mike Moyo, leader of the so-called war veterans who spearheaded the campaign of land confiscations, has sued Edward Chindori-Chininga, the Mines Minister, over a farm in western Zimbabwe. Mr Moyo says the cabinet minister wants to take it from him to add to two other farms.

Mr Chindori-Chininga has already taken farm land in Mazowe district, according to a report in the privately owned Daily News.

The President's cronies now control as many as five farms each. One is said to hold 37.

The Matabeleland region witnessed some of the most gruesome violence directed at farmers by Mr Mugabe's thugs at the height of violence to displace white farmers. Several farmers were killed.

Mr Crawford said Matabeleland commercial farmers had lost faith in the organisation's top executive and that they were unacceptable to farmers in the province.

Doug Taylor-Freeme, the CFU's new president, said some farmers wanted the union leadership to adopt a political position. This would not happen. He said that it would not have any impact because only between 7 and 8 per cent of the remaining members were from Matabeleland. But it is known that many farmers remain in the region.

Many CFU members quit last year to form another body, called Justice in Agriculture, because they were unhappy with what they perceived as the docile response of the CFU executive at the time, led by Collin Cloete, to the land grabs.

Agricultural production has fallen more than 50 per cent in the past year, and Zimbabwe is facing food, fuel and foreign currency shortages, while unemployment and inflation have soared.

Once a regional breadbasket, the southern African state has become a net importer of food over the past three years, but the government blames this on drought, not its land reforms.