Ten white farmers appeared in court in Zimbabwe yesterday accused of growing crops on their land—in a country where millions of people will need food aid within the next few months.
The case in Chegutu district, 70 miles southwest of Harare, exposes the perversity of President Robert Mugabe’s policies. Commerical agriculture was the mainstay of the economy in the days when Zimbabwe was a food exporter.
Since 2000, when the government began seizing white-owned farms, many of them violently, the agricultural sector has collapsed and the economy has gone into freefall, with inflation now at 6,600 per cent, the highest in the world.
The World Food Programme estimates that it will be feeding 4.1 million Zimbabweans, one third of the population, by the end of the year.
But none of that has stopped the Zanu-PF regime.
Now the Chegutu group is charged with violating the Consequential Provisions Act, which gave the few hundred remaining white farmers a final deadline of Sep 30 to leave their land and homes. The colonial-era Chegutu courtroom was packed by the so-called “war veterans” who are Mr Mugabe’s staunch supporters, and “beneficiaries” who stand to be given the properties should the 10 be convicted.
Among them are Edna Madzongwe, the speaker of parliament, and Nathan Shamuyarira, a former information minister and one of President Robert Mugabe’s closest aides.
The farmers, aged from 38 to 75, produce a variety of food from chickens to oranges and have already given two-thirds of their farms to the government for resettlement. All but one still work their remaining land intensively and say they intend to try to continue.
They were remanded on bail and their lawyer David Drury sought to have the case referred to the supreme court, which is due to rule on the constitutionality of the land law. They pleaded not guilty and face up to two years in prison if convicted.
“We have also said that no farmer has received any payment of any kind whatsoever and that the way compensation is decided means farmers would be paid nothing, given that Zimbabwe’s inflation rate is over 6,000 per cent,” he added.
But a prominent lawyer in Harare said the courts were blocking urgent applications over land cases. “The atmosphere in the courts has changed dramatically in the last week,” he said.
Didymus Mutasa, the lands minister, has said that the few hundred remaining white farmers will be forced out, one way or another.
“The position is that food shortages or no food shortages, we are going ahead to remove the remaining whites,” he said recently. “Too many blacks are still clamouring for land and we will resettle them on the remaining farms.”
In fact many farms were given to members of the government and their cronies, and one minister has admitted that the new farmers have failed in their cultivation efforts.
Outside the court, the scruffy shops of Chegutu were empty of basic foods, and street vendors sold small, sour oranges.
They came from a once-prolific citrus farm in the district now devastated after it was seized by Bright Matonga, the deputy information minister, earlier this year.