by Lewis Machipisa
(IPS) HARARE --
147 white Zimbabwean farmers,
arrested by police for defying a government order to vacate their farms,
are scheduled to appear in court this week. The farmers, who refused to
vacate their farms which have been listed for resettling thousands of black
families by the government, were picked up between Thursday and Sunday.
About 100 of them were due to appear in court Monday. They are the first group of white farmers who have resisted the order to vacate their farms by Aug. 8. If convicted, they risk up to two years in jail or $350 fine.
A police spokesperson says the law enforcement agency would continue its crackdown on defiant farmers. "We have made arrests in almost every province and we will continue with the exercise until everybody has been accounted for," said the spokesperson.
The arrests have disrupted commercial farming in Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of the sub-region. Although the government argues that it is redressing colonial land imbalances, analysts say the medium to long-term prospects for commercial agriculture -- the engine for the country's agro-driven economy -- look bleak.
Currently, nearly half of Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people are facing starvation. The UN World Food Program (WFP) blames the food shortages on the effects of a drought combined with seizures of white-owned commercial farms.
President Robert Mugabe has stressed that he wants 350,000 new black farmers to be settled on all former white farms by the end of August to prepare for the rainy season due in two months times.
"We are likely to see arrests of those who have violated 'Section 8 Orders' and who stay on after Aug 8. There may be hundreds or more; there may be a few high profile cases," says Jenni Williams, spokesperson for the group, Justice for Agriculture (JAG), which is defying the government order to vacate the farms. Williams says the farmers have been advised to give the following statement when arrested by the police: "I deny that what I am doing is unlawful. My land case has still not been heard and the High Court is already working to consider the validity of this law. I am helping to produce food and exports to earn foreign currency which we all need and I need to remain in my home to protect my assets."
JAG says more than 60 percent of farmers, under notice of acquisition, have remained on their farms and in their homes, along with their staff and families -- making up over 1.5 million people. It claims that ruling party militants have been putting pressure on some farmers to leave their land.
But a top government official blamed the white farmers of hiring impostors to evict them in order to attract international attention and paint a bleak picture of the southern African country. "We are fully aware of the gimmick that is going on and these impostors are being made to pose as war veterans," Joseph Made, Lands and Agriculture Minister told state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) at the weekend.
"Those impostors were brought in by the farmers to paint a very bleak picture (of the country). But the law enforcement agents are there in full force," Made added. "It's the usual case of demonizing the war veterans."
The war veterans, who participated in the country's liberation struggle in the 1960s and 1970s, have been accused of spearheading the farm invasion and beating up farmers and their workers.
At the height of production, commercial agriculture provided the bulk of the country's food supplies of wheat, meat and dairy products. In a normal year, they used to produce some 30 percent of annual maize output, the bulk of it coming from communal farmers. But the government says it is correcting a skewed colonial land policy where some 4,500 white commercial farmers owned more than 70 percent of the country's prime farmland.
The farmers argue that they are not defying government but the orders, which they have vowed to fight through the courts. "This is not confrontational. It is regrettable that the opportunity to restore the rule of law and establish proper planning and sustainability to the inevitable process of land reform, has not yet been addressed and this is endangering the lives and livelihood of millions of Zimbabweans," explains Williams of the white farmers group.
She says almost all the land has been listed, and most of it compulsorily acquired, without assessing or budgeting for any compensation. "Time has come for them (government) to put 'principle and production' above 'political patronage'. If we are to share the land we must do so lawfully and without ignoring food security," she points out.
August 19 2002 (http://albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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