Machinery to be taken from white farmers in Zimbabwe

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The Independent Online

White farmers who have been forced from their land in Zimbabwe will now have their farming equipment confiscated by the government under a new decree passed by President Robert Mugabe.

Farmers are banned from selling, damaging or immobilising their farm machinery.

Those who defy the decree, which has been enacted under Mr Mugabe's wide-ranging presidential powers, face two years in jail or a fine.

The decree is aimed mainly at confiscating and re-distributing white-owned farming machinery, without giving compensation. Cronies of Mr Mugabe have been allocated land, seized ostensibly to benefit landless peasants. The clampdown comes as Thabo Mbeki, the South African President, arrives in Zimbabwe today to try to negotiate an end to the crisis.

Vast tracts of the land seized are now idle, either because the beneficiaries do not have equipment to farm or because they are too poor.

The decree empowers the Agriculture Ministry and its representatives to "enter any land or premises to ascertain whether there is any farm equipment or materials not being used for agricultural purposes." The equipment can be confiscated and forfeited to the state if it is derelict.

Farmers who have been forced off their land have been unable to use their farming equipment, and many put it in storage. Others were selling their equipment to survive. But the decree means this is no longer possible.

Mr Mugabe refused to compensate farmers for land seized, but he promised compensation for improvements and equipment. However, this has never happened.

Some equipment left on farms has already been vandalised or confiscated. Farmers who had not already moved equipment from their land had been barred from doing so.

John Worsley-Worswick, vice-chairman of the Justice in Agriculture farmers' representative body, said: "It's suddenly a crime to have a piece of equipment you cannot use because you have been forced off your farm. This is daylight robbery. It is vindictive and intimidatory. Mugabe is keen we give up altogether." He added that the decree violated constitutional rights of ownership

Meanwhile, Mr Mugabe has ruled out the possibility of his country's return to the Commonwealth, after withdrawing earlier this month.