White farmers charged as Zimbabwe youths descend on court

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The Independent Online

Twenty-three white farmers in Zimbabwe were charged with inciting violence on Wednesday after reporters were driven from the court in an ominous escalation of the country's descent into lawlessness.

Twenty-three white farmers in Zimbabwe were charged with inciting violence on Wednesday after reporters were driven from the court in an ominous escalation of the country's descent into lawlessness.

Farmers and their relatives said the latest events marked a turning point for the white farming community, which they said was clearly no longer welcome in Zimbabwe. One 72-year-old farmer collapsed with a heart problem while in the dock at the hearing in Chinhoyi, 75 miles north-west of Harare.

I was among the first reporters to wait at Chinhoyi magistrates' court for the arrival of farmers arrested on Wednesday for clashing with squatters who invaded their farms.

A group of 50 rowdy youths belonging to the ruling Zanu-PF party descended on the court wielding axes and sticks. One of them recognised me and all hell broke loose.

"Get away from here, we don't want sell-outs here – move away you British spy." I and a colleague fled the scene. A dozen journalists from the private and international media who arrived later were to meet the same fate. The riotous youths would not let them into the court premises.

Others could be heard shouting that all they wanted was the blood of the white farmers in question and they did not care about the court process.

The wife of one of the arrested farmers told the Independent yesterday: "I tried to get food to my husband but was chased away at the police station like a dog ... the only realistic option for us is to leave everything and go to start a new life elsewhere."

The wife of another prisoner said: "This area has become uninhabitable and I don't think we will be safe ever again."

Other white farmers felt that events in Chinhoyi over the past three days represented a turning point in their lives. "The message we are getting is simple and clear. We are no longer wanted here," said one.

Chairman of the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), Collin Cloete, said the events in Chinhoyi exemplified a new government approach in dealing with white farmers. The new approach hinged on intimidating white farmers into abandoning their land before the veterans moved in.

In the past few weeks, Mr Cloete said, the veterans had resorted to barricading farmers in their homes and attacking them or detaining them for up to five days.

"In Beatrice, Marondera, Headlands and other places, we have had many individual farmers being targeted and attacked in their homes. It has been a trend in the past two or three weeks. It's a tactic to intimidate farmers to leave their properties," Mr Cloete said.

He added it was not true that those wreaking havoc on commercial farms were landless, and most of the illegal settlers were getting instructions to cause problems on the farms.

Mr Cloete said only about 25 farms had been legally acquired by the Zimbabwe government in the past 18 months.

Sources said the Zimbabwe government had now resorted to intimidating farmers to chase them off their land because it did not want to get bogged down in the arduous legal process of land acquisition. The government has so far listed 4,700 farms which it intends to take over.

In Chinhoyi, the 23 farmers had come to the rescue of a colleague who had fallen prey to the new strategy by the war veterans. They, however, ended up behind bars themselves.

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