White farms under siege as famine looms

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The Independent Online

The looming risk of mass starvation in Zimbabwe worsened yesterday as militants moved on to more white-owned farms, beating one worker for refusing to shout ruling party slogans and forcing hundreds of others to stop work.

Last night three white farming families were barricaded in their homes after hundreds of militant supporters of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, gathered on four farms in Guruve, 100 miles north of Harare.

Despite a September deal signed in Nigeria to end such seizures, the occupiers told farm workers they had to make room for new black settlers on the land.

The continuing violence threatens to worsen already critical food shortages in Zimbabwe. Farming experts have predicted a 40 per cent fall in agricultural output this year due to the communalisation of commercial farming. The country needs to import at least 700,000 tons of wheat and maize, but has no foreign currency to buy it.

A recent report by the privately owned Financial Gazette said nearly three million villagers had registered for food aid with the government. The worst hit people had already started eating tree roots and leaves for lack of other food. Conceding that three-quarters of Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people were now living in abject poverty, the Finance Minister, Simba Makoni, warned last week that the country urgently needed aid from abroad.

But analysts say President Mugabe, who faces a crucial presidential election early next year, will remain the major hurdle to efforts by some of his more moderate ministers to normalise ties with the donor community.

Mr Makoni warned that inflation had reached 83.6 per cent, which would be the average rate next year. But while he was urging ties with donors, the Foreign Minister, Stan Mudenge, a close ally of Mr Mugabe, was summoning British and EU diplomats in Harare to censure them for their stance on Zimbabwe.

Mr Mudenge is said to have expressed dismay at the EU's "confrontational attitude" towards Zimbabwe. He also launched a broadside at Britain for violating the Abuja Accord on ending the land crisis. He claimed Britain was mobilising international sanctions against Zimbabwe.

But, in private, Zimbabwe has asked the United Nations Development Programme to help mobilise food aid worth £200m. The president sent the Finance Minister to hold urgent private talks with Victor Angelo, the UNDP resident representative in Zimbabwe, reports said last week.