Militant war veterans and government supporters invaded nine white-owned farms at the weekend, attacking farmers and evicting scores of workers in renewed farm violence just as the planting season gets under way in Zimbabwe.
Jane Williams, a Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) spokeswoman, said Fritz Bezuidenhout, a white farmer, suffered a fractured rib and head injuries after veterans besieged his farm in Odzi, 150 miles (240km) east of Harare, on Sunday night.
The farmer is a brother of Philip Bezuidenhout, who is accused of using his vehicle to run over and kill a black settler on his farm four months ago. Fritz Bezuidenhout had fled his adjacent farm after the incident and returned three weeks ago to oversee the harvesting of his wheat crop. Ms Williams said the war veterans who attacked him urged him to leave his property immediately.
The CFU – which includes 4,500 mainly white farmers – said the militants, who have illegally occupied more than 1,000 farms since February last year, were in some cases slashing tobacco crops and extorting money, particularly in Mashonaland Central Province.
Aid agencies have warned of starvation in Zimbabwe due to declining crop output. At least three million people out of the population of 12.6 million have registered for food aid with the government. Aid agencies estimate Zimbabwe would need to import 700,000 tons of maize and wheat to avert famine.
Ms Williams said another farmer was attacked and barricaded himself for two days at his farm in Marondera. The self-styled war veterans had since confiscated the farmer's two adjacent properties and told him to confine himself to the land in which his farmhouse is located. Three other farmers were attacked at their properties in Guruve, Mashonaland Central Province. Another three farms in the same area were invaded.
Richard Wiles, the owner of one of the affected farms, said he was shocked when the veterans hired a tractor to plough his land without his consent. Mr Wiles said he had now stopped nearly all farming activities on his property. One white woman farmer, whose property was also besieged by the veterans at the weekend, in the Glendale area of Mashonaland Central Province, had been given two days to finish harvesting her 250-acre (100ha) wheat crop and leave the farm.
The renewed violence on Zimbabwe's farms comes barely two weeks after a delegation of Commonwealth ministers visited the country to review the implementation of a pact signed in Abuja, Nigeria, in September on ending the land crisis.
The ministers issued a mild communiqué at the end of their meeting urging the Zimbabwe government to respect the rule of law. The communiqué angered some sections of civic society in Zimbabwe who later labelled the ministers "Commonwealth holiday makers" after their failure effectively to censure President Robert Mugabe's government on his ever-worsening human rights record.
The Zimbabwe Joint Resettlement Initiative, a grouping of commercial farmers that seeks dialogue over the land issue, has urged the government to end the squatter violence. "Violence, intimidation and extortion have no place in the process of land reform," said the group's chairman.