Mugabe begins resettlement of 3m blacks on confiscated farms

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The Independent Online

The first of up to 3 million peasants who are due to be resettled under controversial plans to reduce white land ownership in Zimbabwe were moved in army trucks on to confiscated farmland yesterday.

The first of up to 3 million peasants who are due to be resettled under controversial plans to reduce white land ownership in Zimbabwe were moved in army trucks on to confiscated farmland yesterday.

But the official start of the population movement exercise - aimed at settling 500,000 families on 5 million hectares before the rainy season begins in October - took place against a violent background. The commercial farmers said land invasions seemed to be intensifying this week and reported the molestation at the weekend of 10 primary schoolgirls on a farm near Harare.

After a hesitant start in Mashonaland Central last week, the first mass movement of peasants on to 17 farms totalling 50,000 hectares in the Masvingo area was under way yesterday, the province's governor, Josiah Hungwe, said. The first people to be invited to peg out 15 acres each would be war veterans whohave occupied 50 farms in the province, he said.

"This time we are not going to address rallies. We are going to peg the land and give it to the people. We are going to have a crash programme and it must be done with speed," he said.

It was unclear whether the resettlements include any real measures to give peasants title over their allotted plots on the newly nationalised land or whether the resettled people would receive any equipment, training or fertiliser.

In recent weeks, 211 commercial farms have been served with acquisition orders which require their owners to leave within 90 days. Farmers are taking legal action but, judging from the government's recent form, it seems unlikely that its officials will respect any court rulings that find in the farm owners' favour.

President Robert Mugabe pledged to an international audience last Wednesday that he would move war veterans off the 1,000-odd farms they have occupied all over Zimbabwe. But the following day, speaking to a rural crowd, he appeared to renew his pledge to nationalise a total of 3,041 farms as part of the plan to acquire 5 million hectares for resettlement.

Colin Cloete, a vice-president of the Commercial Farmers' Union, which represents the 4,500 mainly white-owned farms which control 12 million hectares, said: "The occupations seem to have intensified since last week when the national stayaway took place and we launched court actions against the commissioner of police and the chairman of the war veterans. It is as though the occupations are in direct retribution."

Police said they were investigating a report from the union that 10 schoolgirls, aged 12 and 13 had been fondled and abused on two farms south of Harare, allegedly by war veterans. The union said the girls were the children of teachers working on farm schools.

Farm occupations, masterminded by veterans of the liberation war against Rhodesian white rule, reached their height in the run-up to parliamentary elections at the end of June in which the ruling Zanu-PF party, won a narrow majority of seats.

* Southern African leaders meeting in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, resolved yesterday that 11 of their 14 countries, including South Africa but excluding Zimbabwe, would create a free-trade area by 2011.

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