Whatever their colour, whatever their roots, the faces of Zimbabwe this morning are ones of fear

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The Independent Online

The morgue attendant at Musami Mission pulled out the cool room drawer. Dave Stevens' body was semi-dressed and his arms lay in a cross above his chest, as though in a position of self-defence. The area from the white farmer's left eye to his chin had been blasted away. This was one face of Zimbabwe yesterday.

Another face, in this southern African country which since the end of white rule in 1980 has grown proud of its racial harmony, could be found smiling, laughing and drinking celebratory beers, 10 kilometres away in Murehwa. In the gardens of Zexcom (Zimbabwe ex-combatants) the mood was defiant as 200 men and women, wearing ruling party T-shirts, chanted and danced.

But the more representative face of Zimbabwe yesterday was of terror, both black and white. At Murehwa's bus stop, people told of the gunshots they had heard on Saturday afternoon, as "the Zexcom people" raced through town opening fire on a white farmer's pick-up. Speaking to white journalists, or anyone with a pale skin, was life-threatening, said one woman. "The Zexcom people march around town in their T-shirts and orange caps, firing into the air as if they own our town. We are terrified," she said, then ran away.

Sixty kilometres away, at Marondera, 80 burly white farmers, many with eyes which had cried all night, met at the country club to decide what to do in the wake of Mr Stevens' murder. "We are terrified," said Oscar Nicholson, who had brought his wife, Mariette, and his grandfather, Athol, to the meeting. "We have sent our wives and children to Harare and evacuated all our farms. We do not know when we will be able to go back, or what is happening there.

"The farms are all we have; we have put all our money back into our farms. At least during all seven years of the war, you knew whose side everyone was on. This is complete mayhem.''

Fifty-year-old Dave Stevens' greatest sin, it seems, was to have worked towards a democratic Zimbabwe. He was a counsellor on the farmers' own town committee, set up to get things working while the official body, dominated by stalwarts of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), ran the infrastructure into the ground. Mr Stevens was a known supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

On Friday, invaders who had been squatting on his tobacco farm, "Arizona", since last month, beat up several of Mr Stevens' workers, apparently because they had been to an MDC meeting.

On Saturday morning, the workers retaliated - a move which was seen by the invaders as commanded by Mr Stevens.

"On Saturday afternoon, the invaders returned with a busload of war veterans. Their intention was to kill, right from the start," said John Osborne, who was with Mr Stevens when the 30-strong mob arrived.

Yesterday Mr Osborne, 49, was in hospital at Marondera, being nursed for shock and concussion. Four other white farmers were injured: Gary Luke, Steve Krynauw, Stuart Gemmill and Ian Hardy, whose price for intervening was a fractured skull, severe bruising, whip and rifle-butt wounds.

Mr Osborne said: "Dave was hit around the head, handcuffed, and led to his brown Land Rover. They set fire to his tobacco warehouse. A white sedan led the convoy, followed by the Land Rover and the bus. Steve and I gave chase and I radioed from my car that Dave was being driven towards Murehwa. Once in the town, we lost them. In the main street, the men in the white car, a Nissan Bluebird, fired at us with a shotgun they had taken from Dave's place.

"We went to the Murehwa police camp for safety but the men caught up with us and handcuffed us. The police just stood by. We were thrown into the Bluebird and taken to the Zexcom compound. I was dragged out of the car and taken to a room where I found Dave. They had already had a real go at him. I lost sight of Steve and the others.

"They kept pointing the shotgun at our heads and shouting, and saying we would die. Dave was only half there - he had been so thoroughly beaten. After a while they put us back in the Bluebird and drove two or three kilometres in convoy again. There, they started to beat us again but after a while one of the women recognised me and said I was OK, that they should leave me.

"I was bundled back into the car and Dave was taken round the back where he was shot in the face. I heard two shots. This was about 3.30pm,'' said Mr Osborne. He, miraculously, managed to convince the mob to take him to a friend's farm nearby. That is where he was dumped.

Separately, Steve Krynauw, 52, was being beaten at the Zexcom compound, together with Gary Luke, 44. "Our hands were bound with cord and they hit us with their fists. They kept saying we would die," Mr Krynauw said in hospital yesterday. "After a few hours they put us in the back of a pick-up and drove up with Dave's body, which they just dumped on top of us.

"Gary says I blacked out. All I remember is seeing a .303 shotgun and a swollen river, where they left us. They took our shoes but said they would come back. The sun was rising by the time we decided to try to find safety. We could work out where south was thanks to the sun. We left Dave's body there. We walked ten or 15 kilometres, barefoot, until we got to a farm where we broke the lock, found some car keys and drove to safety," he said.

Later yesterday, the remaining two farmers, Ian Hardy and Stuart Gemmill, were found. Unable to walk for the beatings they had received, the two had crawled through the bush from the place where they had been dumped.

Mr Gemmill said: "At one point, we heard a police Land Rover on the road. But we hid because we were certain they would just take us back to the Zexcom people.

All the survivors feel Zimbabwe is now out of control, and their organisation, the Commercial Farmers' Union, has advised them not to return to their farms for the time being. "It is untenable that the police are complicit in this criminality,'' said Tim Henwood, the CFU deputy director yesterday.

Yet one of the leaders of the invaders, the War Veterans' Association general secretary, Agrippa Gava, remained unrepentant yesterday. "Of course this is not a tragedy. Any whites who die are just casualties of the process. They are all English foreigners who live on stolen land. Deaths are what happen in the process of a conflict," said Mr Gava.

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