Posted on March 3, 2015

Zimbabwe’s White Farmers Targeted for New Mugabe Land Grabs

Peta Thornycroft and Aislinn Laing, Telegraph, February 28, 2015

When war veterans arrived to claim Craig Edy’s farm during Zimbabwe’s violent land invasions, he simply refused to budge from his tin-roofed home on his newly-acquired cattle farm.

The raiders eventually gave up, leaving Mr Edy to build up his business on the 1,500-acre plot in Fort Rixon, a dusty farming region in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland province.

This week, however, the spectre of land grabs returned, in the shape of a beady-eyed official from the lands department who arrived and started building a house on the farm. He even confiscated the keys for the farm’s generator when Mr Edy was in town on business.

When Mr Edy sought the help of a cabinet minister he knew, he was arrested and accused of threatening the land official with a gun.

“It was rubbish,” he told The Telegraph by crackly phone line from Bulawayo, where he, his wife and mother-in-law have moved while they wait for a resolution.

“I was also told I was not wanted in Zimbabwe and that I was standing in the way of land reform.”

Far from being an isolated incident, the union that represents Zimbabwe’s 300-odd remaining white farmers believes it represents a fresh bid by President Robert Mugabe to finally rid the country of its white landowners.

The Commercial Farmers’ Union said there had been “at least 20 incidents” in recent weeks, in most cases with farmers told to leave their farms, sometimes with as little as one month’s notice.

Hendrik Olivier, the CFU’s director, said senior members of Mr Mugabe’s feared Central Intelligence Organisation were among those leading the latest land grab attempts.

“It would appear that they are just picking off the remaining couple of farmers who have already lost land, but are fortunate enough to still be on one small piece,” he said. “Now they are taking that away too.”

On Saturday, Mr Mugabe celebrated his 91st birthday with a lavish party at a Victoria Falls golf resort, during which he made a speech pledging to extend the land grabs which saw thousands of white farmers driven off their farms since 2000 to the country’s many game reserves.

“Zimbabwe has lots of safaris but very few are African,” he told his audience during an hour-long speech broadcast on national television. “Most are white-owned. But we are now going to invade those forests. Our people cannot keep suffering.”

The new onslaught against white farmers comes despite the European Union suspending sanctions on eight senior Zimbabwean officials last year. They were kept on Mr Mugabe and his wife. One cattle farmer, who asked not to be named, said that workers from the ministry of lands were measuring up all the farm’s assets. “They are making a list of what is here, as they say it belongs to the government,” he said. “They told me I have to go as people like me are not wanted in Zimbabwe. Today they are measuring up my house.”

He said he had escaped previous land claims because he was handing out favours, goods, money and advice to senior politicians and military officers loyal to Mr Mugabe. All around him, the infrastructure of what was once the Breadbasket of Africa has collapsed. Schools have closed, as have country clubs where white farmers huddled to drink warm beer and compare cattle prices. Farm shops selling local eggs are a dim memory.

The first invasions of white-owned farms began after Mr Mugabe was defeated by the new opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change in a referendum in 2000.

He allowed militant war veterans who fought white minority rule in Rhodesia in the 1970s to invade thousands of productive white-owned farms. It left the economy in ruins and millions of people dependent on emergency food aid.

It is believed that the latest farm invasions have been motivated by comments by Mr Mugabe’s new deputy and likely successor, the former defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mr Mnangagwa, against whom EU sanctions were lifted last year, reportedly said in late January: “Those with multiple farms, we will take them, the few whites on farms, we will look into that and those with big farms, we will cut to size.”

Among those targeted are cattle farmers who still control top breeding stock and a handful of tobacco farmers who, along with a large number of small-scale black farmers, are in the process of curing the crop that is Zimbabwe’s main export.

“It is sad as they survived so long. There has been some reaction from some chiefs and locals who say they do not want the farmers to go,” said Mac Crawford, a senior member of the CFU, who was himself evicted in the first round of the invasions in 2000.

Some in the farming community wonder whether the sharp economic downturn since Mr Mugabe was returned to office in disputed elections in 2013 sparked the recent invasions.

“The economy is so bad, and it seems some of these invasions may be linked to lack of cash in the economy,” said one rancher.

Peter Cahill, 65, a British citizen from Bradford, still lives with his Zimbabwean wife, Elizabeth, on the 1,000 acre farm he bought two years after 1980 independence near Craig Edy in Fort Rixon.

The department of lands sent officials onto Mr Cahill’s farm earlier this month to measure up assets, including his cottage where he lives with his wife.

Since all white farms were declared state land in 2005, he has now been charged with “illegally” remaining and is selling cattle to pay solicitors’ bills.

He has turned to the courts for help, and secured an interim order against the land official now living on his farm. “I hope they obey the court order and leave but it is not safe for me to be there at present,” he said. “My brother is in the UK and says I should go and join him, but I can’t live there. This is my home, and I am not going.”

Calls by the Telegraph to the agriculture minister and Mr Mnangagwa and Mr Mugabe’s offices were not returned.