Zimbabwe’s white farmers face a ‘renewed onslaught’

2010-10-29 10:57

A Zimbabwean white farmers’ organisation says it has seen a “renewed onslaught” of farm seizures and attacks, including the slayings of two farmers, in recent weeks.

Deon Theron, head of the Commercial Farmers’ Union that represents Zimbabwe’s dwindling number of white farmers – about 300 whites still hold farmland in the country – said yesterday that the attacks followed an announcement last month by President Robert Mugabe of a constitutional referendum and national elections early next year.

Theron said police and security authorities had refused to act against a new wave of “violence, evictions and occupations” in the build-up to polling.

That “signals the start of a renewed onslaught against rural communities” by Mugabe’s loyalists, Theron said in a statement.

In several districts, “hired thugs” broke into homesteads and locked the owners out, leaving them with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, the statement said.

Mugabe last month vowed to call elections next year to end the nation’s shaky coalition with his long-time rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The troubled power-sharing deal is due to expire at the two-year mark in February.

Mugabe said the deal would not be extended by more than a few weeks until elections could be held.

Two farmers have died in robberies and at least three have been forced from their homes in the Banket district, 100km northwest of Harare, in the past two weeks.

In the early hours of Monday, intruders killed prominent farmer Kobus Joubert (67) by shooting him at point-blank range in the head at his home in Banket.

The intruders attacked his wife, ransacked the house and stole money and cellphones.

The couple was illegally evicted from the farm by militants in 2008, but later won a court order allowing them to return.

Smallholder farmer Tim Chance was killed in an ambush with his own firearms stolen by intruders in an earlier raid on his home in the Somabhula area, near the central city of Gweru.

Theron said military officers also took over a farm in the eastern Nyazura district, adding that the farm’s owner, 73-year-old Tiennie van Rensburg, yesterday was still trying to remove farm equipment and other goods.

Theron said a colonel visited the farm and told Van Rensburg to leave within 72 hours or be evicted by the army.

When Van Rensburg obtained court papers protecting him, “a group of eight thugs were sent to his farm at about midnight to remove the owners.

They beat up Van Rensburg’s guard and then, armed with his gun, gave the couple 10 minutes to vacate the property,” the statement read.

Two farms owned by German and French investors have also been seized despite bilateral investment protection agreements.

Claims by another 13 evicted farmers of Dutch origin for compensation under investment agreements between Zimbabwe and the Dutch government have been dismissed by the Zimbabwean courts.

About 4?000 white farmers have been forced from their farms since 2000, disrupting the agriculture-based economy in the former regional breadbasket. Many of the best producing prize farms were acquired by Mugabe cronies and to this day still lie idle.

Government comment was not immediately available, but in the past Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and security agencies have denied reports of violent farm seizures.

Mugabe insisted the takeovers were to correct colonial-era imbalances in land ownership.

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