Desperation Stalks Zimbabwe’s White Farmers

Mkepile Mabuse, CNN, Sept. 22. 2009

A desperate Zimbabwean farmer fighting to hold onto his land–a year after the country’s political rivals pledged to govern jointly–fears he will eventually lose to politics and violence.

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Charles Lock is one of an estimated 400 farmers who have remained in the country despite President Robert Mugabe’s policy of redistributing white-owned farms to landless blacks.

“Why do they want to remove me when I’ve complied with everything they want? What more do they want other than for me to pack my bags and leave and if that’s the case, then admit that that is the policy. Pass a law: no whites are allowed to farm. Then it makes it clear,” Lock said.

Since 2000, Mugabe’s controversial land reform program has driven more than 4,000 commercial farmers off their land, destroying Zimbabwe’s once prosperous agricultural sector.

“When the land reform program began, we decided we were not going to have a confrontational attitude; that we would actually go along with this program because it was the only way that this whole thing would be sorted out. So I voluntarily gave away my own farm and moved onto my father-in-law’s farm,” Lock said.

That was in 2002. A year later the government came knocking on his door again, he said, demanding more land.

Lock told CNN he eventually gave up 70 percent of his father-in-law’s farm, which he then owned. Now an army general is demanding Lock’s remaining 30 percent.

When Zimbabwe’s new unity government was formed–with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change–in February this year, the general allegedly posted soldiers on Lock’s farm. The farmer said he stopped farming and trade at gun point.

When CNN visited Lock’s farm this month, workers were standing idle. Maize and tobacco, which Lock said is worth more than U.S. $1 million, lay in storage.

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On another farm, Ben Freeth’s fight for his land has just escalated to another level.

Freeth has been repeatedly beaten, arrested and harassed. Now his farmhouse and that of his father-in-law have been gutted by a mysterious fire.

Freeth could not say for sure that this is arson but told CNN that the group of ZANU-PF youths who have occupied his farm have repeatedly threatened to burn his house.

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Freeth and his father-in-law Mike Campbell are among a group of Zimbabwean farmers who won the right to remain on their land at a southern African tribunal.

But Mugabe has declared the ruling null and void and pulled out of the tribunal. Farmers cannot contest land issues in Zimbabwe and approaching international courts has thus far not worked either.

When CNN interviewed Mugabe’s minister of state, Didymas Mutasa, about the disregard for human and property rights on the farms, he blamed the farmers for the violence, saying landless blacks are getting frustrated with their refusal to relinquish their land.

“Human rights are beginning to be seen now because they benefit the whites, and when they were affecting blacks badly as they did the likes of us, it didn’t matter and nobody raised anything about those human rights.

“And sometimes we say, good heavens, if that is the kind of human rights you are talking about, you better keep them away from us; we don’t want to see them,” he told CNN.

But it is black farm workers who are caught in the cross fire. They continue to bear the brunt of the land reform program by repeatedly being beaten and intimidated. Some have even been killed.

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Many farmers and farm workers we spoke to say they are in a worse position now under the unity government than they were before.

Lock said: “When ZANU-PF was in power, you had hawks and doves in government and the doves were approachable and often helped us. But now that these positions are being shared with Mr. Tsvangirai’s MDC, Mr. Mugabe has only appointed hawks to his cabinet who insist on continuing the land reform program. And when it comes to the MDC, the land issue seems to be a hot potato they do not want to touch. I have asked Mr. Tsvangirai to intervene but nothing is happening.”

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