Last Stand For Zimbabwe’s White Farmers

Peta Thornycroft, Telegraph (UK), October 4, 2006

Karoi—A tiny court in a shabby farming town in Zimbabwe was the setting yesterday for a last despairing attempt to stop President Robert Mugabe from evicting the country’s few surviving white landowners.

A new law about to pass parliament will, in effect, give the regime power in the next 90 days to dispossess the last few hundred white farmers who still cling to their land.

Two white farming families who have already received eviction letters appealed to the magistrates’ court in Karoi to halt the orders.

If the Nel and Terblanche families lose the test case, there will be nothing in law to stop Mr Mugabe from eliminating the surviving white landowners.

Didymus Mutasa, the lands and security minister, is leading the final offensive. David Drury, the lawyer representing the two families, told the court that Mr Mutasa “has dragged my clients to court… in a futile bid to evict them”.

He said the regime’s application for the eviction of the Nel and Terblanche families was “incompetent, illegal and an abuse of all sorts of rules and all sorts of laws”.

Mr Drury said the regime had already ignored a provisional high court order allowing the families to remain on their land. Earlier, officials had served eviction notices on the wrong people.

A constitutional amendment passed last year declared every acre of land that has ever been listed for seizure—about 6,000 white-owned farms in total—the property of the state. That move prevented the owners from having any recourse to the courts.

But Mr Drury’s central argument was that the amendment “did not give the state powers to evict farmers . . . without due process of law and the status quo has to remain”.

The magistrate, Archibald Dingani, will rule tomorrow on whether he accepts this argument.

On his decision hangs the fate not only of the Nel and Terblanche families but all of the last whites still clinging to their homes.

After the hearing, Daniel Nel, 44, who was a government-approved South African investor, asked: “I am a white African, so why must I go?” He said: “We are operating on about 20 per cent of the land we used to have, but we still produce many thousands of tonnes of crops, and do so with government loans. So why do they want us to go?”

Six years ago, 258 white farmers lived in Karoi district, 125 miles north-west of Harare. Today, only 11 remain. Across the country, the white farming community has plummeted from 4,000 landowners before Mr Mugabe’s land grab in 2000 to a few hundred today.

Zimbabwe’s economy has contracted by more than 40 per cent since 2000 and about one third of the population now depends on food aid.

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