White farmers face new wave of arrests

Declan Walsh
Saturday 11 January 2014 05:02
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Zimbabwe's white farmers are bracing themselves for a fresh wave of arrests today as President Mugabe's latest eviction deadline – issued on the heels of his defiant Earth Summit address – expires.

Police and government officials have ordered farmers in at least three provinces to leave their farms by 11am BST today or face eviction by the heavily armed Police Support Unit.

More than 2,500 farmers are refusing to hand over control of their farms, said Jenni Williams, a spokeswoman for the group Justice for Agriculture. "They feel they should remain, even if they are arrested," she said.

Mr Mugabe's first deadline expired a month ago today, and around 250 farmers were rounded up and arrested. More than 150 had their eviction orders overturned, but the government is ignoring the courts. "We don't know what the hell is happening," said Colin Shand, a farmer who is legally entitled to return home, but is afraid to do so.

The move comes just days after President Mugabe's triumphant return from the Earth Summit, where fellow African leaders cheered his defence of the controversial land grab.

In a rare interview with the foreign press in Harare, he said: "It's an approval of our position. A position of truth, as opposed to the British position of lies and dishonesty."

He said he was committed to distributing the land "fairly and justly", but a list of 500 high-profile beneficiaries of the land scheme released this week suggests that the best properties are destined for cronies and supporters.

As well as government ministers, police and army officers and war veterans, large farms have been earmarked for a gospel singer, journalists with the state Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and Dr Mthuli Ncube, a finance lecturer at the London School of Economics.

With over six million Zimbabweans facing possible famine, international pressure on Mr Mugabe is mounting fast. The US has openly admitted it is supporting a change of regime. In Zimbabwe, support for Mr Mugabe is low, but some criticise white farmers for remaining socially and politically isolated for most of the post-independence period.

White farmers were "the hardest community to reach with the gospel" until the land invasions started three years ago, said the Rev Tim Neill, a white Anglican minister and prominent Mugabe critic. He recalled going to see one rich farmer in 1991, when tobacco prices were high. The man lived in a fine house, kept polo ponies and piloted his own airplane. In contrast, his farm workers earned rock-bottom wages and lived in a "disgusting" compound below his house. But when Mr Neill asked the man to improve their conditions, he refused.

Recently, the same farmer phoned Mr Neill. "Now he wants to know what I" – the churchman's voice rose angrily – "am going to do about his rights. Maybe he should have thought about that then."

Others point out that many farmers provided school and health facilities for their staff, while some whites are active in human rights, the judiciary, and the independent press.

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