Farm-grabbers leave after German threat to cut aid

2010-07-13 15:22

Dozens of supporters of President Robert Mugabe have left a

German-owned property following threats that aid from Berlin would be cut off, a

German embassy spokesperson said.

Observers said it is believed to be the first time that diplomatic

pressure against Mugabe’s administration had succeeded since he launched a

revolutionary land reform programme in 2000, driving 4 500 white farming

families off their property and setting off the collapse of the

agriculture-based economy.

Three farms, owned by German citizen Heinrich von Pezold, which

produce coffee, tea, fruit and timber in the Chipinge district in the southeast

of the country were invaded by mobs in early June.

Although the farms are covered by a decade-old bilateral investment

protection agreement, police refused to take action against the invaders.

The embassy then issued an angry protest to the government warning

that a promised $20 million-grant to the bankrupt government would not be

sanctioned by the German Parliament.

It had been quiet there for some days, said embassy spokesperson

Matthias Schumacher.

The invaders had gone elsewhere, he said. It seemed to be a result

of the diplomatic pressure.

Fears that the mobs would return with reinforcements and extract

revenge on the workers had not been realised.

The local businessman who had hired the mob to take over the

properties had appealed to senior administrators to help him force his way back

onto von Pezold’s farm, but had been rebuffed, Schumacher said.

Von Pezold is one of five coffee farmers left in the fertile

Chipinge valley, while national production of coffee has fallen from 10 000 tons

in 2002 to 300 this year.

Analysts say the statistics are a mirror of what has happened to

the rest of the country’s once thriving agricultural industry under Mugabe’s

programme of farm seizures.

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