Posted on June 16, 2010

White Farmers in Zimbabwe Struggle Against Increasing Violence

Leah Hyslop, London Telegraph, June 11, 2010

Ian Ferguson’s conservation farm, seized in April, is now littered with the remains of his slaughtered animals.

On May 25, Geoff Carbutt and his wife Shirley were evicted from their farm in Inyathi at gunpoint. Mr Carbutt was then arrested at his farm for occupying state land without a permit.

On the same day, farmer Ed Grenfell Dexter was arrested in Bulawayo, whilst a few days later on May 28, James Taylor and his son Matthew were arrested on their farm and taken to police cells in Nyamandhlovu .

But according to the SACFA, most of the affected farmers had official permits protecting their land from seizure.

Chris Jarrett, Chairman of the SACFA, commented: “For a while, things were quiet, but all of a sudden there has been a real burst of activity against white landowners.

“As far as we’re concerned, all these seizures have been completely illegal. Most of the remaining white farmers exist on tiny portions of their original land, and have every right to stay there. The land acquisition notice for James Taylor’s estate was withdrawn several years ago. The Carbutts have already given up most of their land for resettlement, and had a High Court order saying they could stay on the remaining section. Ed Grenfell Dexter doesn’t even live on his farm any more and was lured out to be arrested.

“People think that there may be a period of quiet now until the World Cup is over, but we can’t be sure. It’s an unsettling time for farmers.”

Land reform in Zimbabwe began in 1979, when the Lancaster House Agreement between Britain and Zimbabwe pledged to begin a fairer distribution of land between the white minority who ruled Zimbabwe from 1890 to 1979 and the landless black population. At this stage, land acquisition could only occur on a voluntary basis.

By March 2000, however, little land had been redistributed and frustrated groups of government supporters began seizing white-owned commercial farms.

Since the seizures began, agricultural production in Zimbabwe has fallen dramatically.

Mr Jarrett said there had even been occasions when local people gathered in support of persecuted white farmers: “I think it would be true to say that it is widely accepted in Zimbabwe now, as in the rest of the world, that our economical and financial problems are due to the seizure of these farms. It was the white farmers who often provided the local community with support–providing work, or sending their men to fix things like piping problems in the village.

“When the police tried to take Gary Godfrey’s farm in Nyamandhlovu a few weeks ago, his workers and the local veterans went to see the superintendent and insisted it stopped. Most of the seizures have been taking place in Nyamandhalovu and Inyathi, districts which are traditionally very independent. People there are very tired of being dictated to by the police.”

Ian Ferguson, a farmer in Beitbridge whose land was seized in April, said that the situation was become increasingly difficult for white land owners to bear: “I spent twenty five years setting up a wildlife conservation farm in a semi desert area which the government had officially declared no interest in. All of a sudden, it was seized, and now there is nothing left.

“In the past month, machinery has been ripped apart, solar panels stolen and nearly all my animals shot. 80 per cent of the impalas are dead, and the attackers have skinned over 100 zebra for their hides. In just a few weeks, they have inflicted a level of devastation which I would have thought would take three or four months.”

“Two thirds of my family have left Zimbabwe now, and I think it’s probably the best thing for them. This is nothing more than ethic cleansing–pure and simple.”

Dr Steven Chan, a professor of international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said that the farm seizures were “likely to be related to an eventual election, next year or further in the future, when Zanu-PF might lose its command over Zimbabwe. They become a hedging of bets, seizing assets while it is still possible.”

There are now fewer than than 400 white farmers in Zimbabwe. In 2000, this was number was around 4500.