Villagers on Grace Mugabe farm 'beaten on soles of feet': HRW

Harare - Riot police knocking down homes on a farm taken over by Zimbabwe first lady Grace Mugabe tied a rope round the cottages and used a truck to pull them down, Human Rights Watch is reporting.

Some villagers who tried to stop their homes being destroyed in this heartbreaking way on Arnolds Farm in Mazowe were beaten, the watchdog reports in its latest statement. 

At least five men were beaten on the soles of their feet.

Demolitions in March

The demolitions started in March - and took place without a court order. In fact, a High Court judge ruled in late March that police were to be stopped from harassing villagers on the farm

In all, around 200 families were affected.

Police have said in court documents that the farm belongs to Zimbabwe's first family. Up to 900 families were first moved from the farm in 2012, according to a report by the state-owned Herald newspaper.

The evictions, which were covered by the local press, have revived memories of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina slum clearance campaign.

Slum clearance campaign

The campaign took place shortly after parliamentary elections and was seen in some quarters as an attempt to punish urban voters who had voted against longtime president Robert Mugabe (though his ruling Zanu-PF party won a majority of seats).

Some of the villagers at Arnolds Farm had occupied their homes since 2000, according to HRW. The effect on their lives has clearly been devastating.

Crops lost

Says HRW: "Many families have lost their crops and livestock during the demolitions and now live and sleep in the open with no protection from the rain and cold." 

"Police harassment has prevented the families from harvesting their corn, sugar beans, and groundnuts crops," it continued.

"When a Human Rights Watch team visited Arnolds Farm on May 9, they witnessed four uniformed and armed anti-riot police and six people in civilian clothes demolish homes and destroy property belonging to farm residents."

Beaten on the soles of their feet

"Human Rights Watch interviewed five men whom the police had beaten on the soles of their feet that day for refusing to leave the farm," said the watchdog, as it called for government intervention to punish those behind the abuse.

The Mugabe family already owns a dairy, an orphanage and a private school in Mazowe. There are also plans to build a Robert Mugabe University nearby

National monument

Arnolds Farm, in this prime citrus-growing area, was previously white-owned. 

The authorities have given differing explanations for police and state involvement there in the past. 

One argument is that the farm is a national monument. There have been moves to translocate wildlife to the area, supposedly in a bid to turn it into a conservancy. 

A ruling party official has also said that Grace Mugabe had been offered the farm to attract investment.

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