Ringed by a clutch of Zimbabwean soldiers clicking automatic weapons, Charles Lock handed over the keys to his farm and drove off his land for the last time.
Scores of white farmers, the last survivors of President Robert Mugabe’s land grab, and thousands of their black workers are going through similar agonies.
They now face the final deadline. As from today, any white farmer still on his land will be deemed to be trespassing on state property.
All agricultural land was officially nationalised last year—with the seizure to take effect from Oct 1 this year.
In advance of this deadline, Zimbabwe’s army and the Central Intelligence Organisation have been tormenting the last handful of white farmers and their workers.
About 50 have been summoned to appear at magistrates’ courts. Some have surrendered their farms and homes in despair in the last few weeks.
Mr Lock, however, is determined to fight on. “I may have been forced to go but I will continue to fight in the courts,” he said. “I have five court orders allowing me to stay.”
Four years ago Mr Lock was given permission to stay on Karori Farm in Headlands district, about 90 miles south-east of Harare, after two thirds of its land was made available for resettlement.
Earlier, Mr Lock had surrendered another 5,000-acre farm to the government.
But the last portion of Karori’s land still in Mr Lock’s hands caught the attention of a senior army officer, Gen Justin Mujaji and his wife, Pauline.
He sent his soldiers to evict Mr Lock, along with all of the farmer’s black labourers, and take over the property.
“They came with their guns and fired a few rounds,” said Mr Lock, 45. “I was forced to pay off 158 workers. The soldiers drove them and their families off in the space of 24 hours. They vanished.”
“The farm school is deserted. I had to move my four farm managers and their possessions off as they were in danger, and while I was away my house and equipment was looted. I was alone on the farm then, and so I just had to go.”
Last week, Mr Lock brought a contempt of court application against Gen Mujaji and his wife.
Mr Justice Charles Hungwe heard the case and made a remark to the effect that the courts were being abused. He promised a ruling this week.
But Gen Mujaji insists that he will stay on the farm regardless of the law. “I will only leave Karori if the minister of lands orders me. He is senior to the courts,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
Before the onset of the land grab, Zimbabwe had about 4,000 white farmers. Perhaps a few hundred are left—and the great majority are only able to cling to portions of their land.
Hardly any still possess all the acres they owned before the seizures. The latest deadline could dislodge the remaining handful.
“The military are heavily involved now,” said John Worsley-Worswick, spokesman for the pressure group Justice for Agriculture. “We always knew that eventually the government would go for the final push, and here it is.”
The United Nations says that about four million Zimbabweans will need food aid next year. Until the land grab, Zimbabwe exported food.
Charles Lock and his daughters.