HARARE, Zimbabwe—Thousands of supporters of President Robert Mugabe who answered his call to evict whites from their farms four years ago became victims themselves this week when riot police burned down their houses and chased them from the land they had seized.
An estimated 20,000 have been left homeless in the Trelawney district, 30 miles from the capital, Harare.
For more than 15 miles on either side of a wide, tarred road are the blackened shells of traditional huts built since Mr. Mugabe ordered his supporters to kick out about 4,000 white commercial farmers and claim their land for themselves.
Hundreds of gaunt men, women and children were huddled in groups every few miles. They guarded pots and pans tied up in blankets, their chickens trussed into plastic bags, while their thirsty children cried under a fierce sun.
Gilbert Mushowe, 44, who had left one of Harare’s ghettos to become a “new farmer” in September 2000, was sitting on a double bed with his two children.
“We were told to come here. We did. We built houses, we tried to farm,” he said, and blamed the president’s daughter, Sabina Mugabe, for the evictions.
“The police burned everything. They trampled our vegetable garden. I am very, very cross. I have been a longtime supporter of [the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Popular Front party] but that makes no difference,” he said.
“We were told this would be our land forever,” said another farmer, Reuben Mashanda, 71, referring to the farm known as Little England.
Miss Mugabe, a member of Parliament who with other family members has taken over several white-owned farms, yesterday denied she was behind the evictions.
“Those people are just using my name. They are illegal. That is cattle land, not for crops,” she said.
She said the “illegal settlers” were in her constituency. She said she did not know about any provision for transport for them, nor where they might be “resettled.”
Wayne Bvudzijena, a senior police spokesman, confirmed that the eviction of the peasant farmers had been ordered by the regime.
“They did not have permission to be there. We followed orders from the lands ministry,” he said.
Lands Minister John Nkomo directed inquiries to the governor of Mashonaland West province. Gov. Nelson Samkange, who last week sent militiamen to force out one of the remaining two white commercial farmers in the district, was not available for comment yesterday.
The legal owner of Little England, one of the 10 farms comprising 30,000 acres that have been cleared of settlers, who now lives in Harare, witnessed the brutal clearance.
“It looks like Vietnam out there with those fires,” he said, speaking on the condition he not be identified. “I don’t know what is legal or illegal any more. I had a rough time.”