- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe Economically ravaged by months of violent land seizures, this country watched with growing anxiety this week as the government's land-redistribution program degenerated into a chaotic, often violent frenzy and commercial farmers launched a last-ditch Supreme Court challenge.
Before June's parliamentary elections, embattled President Robert Mugabe pledged to settle 150,000 black Zimbabwean families on white-owned commercial farms before the rainy season, which began this week.
His critics say that Mr. Mugabe, who succeeded in settling only 70,000 families in his first 17 years in office, failed to provide real land reform because of government incompetence and greedy allocations to political elites charges that have arisen again as the reality of Mr. Mugabe's effort plays out.
The government this year listed some 2,300 white-owned farms for compulsory acquisition and distribution to black communal farmers.
Unable to manage such a massive redistribution of farmland, survey the land and water resources, provide seed and machinery, or evaluate the readiness of prospective new farmers, Mr. Mugabe turned the program over to provincial governors, who publicly admitted they cannot handle the job and urged people to stake their own claims.

Invaders burn crops

The list of white-owned farms to be acquired by the government has become irrelevant. Farmers on unlisted farms have been ordered off their land immediately as invaders burn off newly planted crops and forage.
Commercial farmers charge that in the free-for-all, policemen, army officers and people with political connections have joined the land grab, often clashing with villagers and veterans of the liberation war from former white-ruled Rhodesia who thought they had priority.
The arrival of the rains has charged the atmosphere as land-grabbers realize there are only a few more weeks to plant next year's crop.
"Go ahead and resettle yourselves in time for the rains," said Ignatius Chombo, chairman of the government resettlement committee and minister of public works and housing, at a rally last weekend.
He urged villagers to invade farms and seize land because the government did not have enough technicians to survey and demarcate plots in time.
"A situation of anarchy now prevails in our country, and unless there is an immediate turnaround in the attitude of law enforcement agencies, total chaos will inevitably result," said Tim Henwood, president of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU).

Top court hears challenge

Unable to stop the seizures, white farmers follow government officials to each settlement, in some cases tape-recording their public comments and seeking injunctions against them in hopes that illegal seizures can be reversed in the courts if Mr. Mugabe is ousted from office.
On Monday, farmers challenged in the Supreme Court the constitutionality of the emergency powers Mr. Mugabe invoked last spring to seize farms.
"We know it won't have any effect on the resettlement of farms, but that is all we can do," said Jerry Davidson, a CFU official who is counseling farmers evicted from their land without due process.
Rather than seek a graceful exit as his unpopularity grows, Mr. Mugabe, in power since Jan. 1, 1988, has grown more militant, purging those in the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Popular Front (ZANU-PF) party and army who favor his retirement. He vowed to ignore any court rulings against his land redistribution and has vilified the courts for repeatedly ruling against him on procedural technicalities and constitutional grounds.

ZANU-PF whips up anger

In full-page advertisements in the government newspapers this week, the ZANU-PF, in power since 1980, said:
"We condemn unrepentant and unapologetic Rhodesians who are abusing the policies of national reconciliation and unity by misleading the international community while seeking to monopolize our constitution and the courts to deny us access to our most important heritage: land.
"Say enough is enough. Put a stop to the madness. Say no to their arrogant abuses. This land is your land. Don't let them use the courts and the constitution against the masses," the ZANU-PF ad said.
Such messages have led to increasing lawlessness and violence. In the past three weeks, three white farmers have been severely beaten to prevent them from planting. One was hit on the back of the head with an ax.
Zimbabwe's 300,000 black commercial-farm workers and their dependents were initially promised land under the redistribution plan, but increasingly, liberation war veterans and ZANU-PF officials are chasing the workers off resettled farms and beating those who continue planting on behalf of white farmers.
Some farm workers have fought back, raising the prospect of wider clashes.

Students, police clash

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change is proposing mass protests to oust Mr. Mugabe, and university students battled riot police on Monday in Harare, the national capital.
To deflect criticism that resettled villagers are being given no support, the government offered free plowing by government district development tractors. But black commercial farm organizations complain that they are being denied tractors so the government can score short-term political points.
Meanwhile, fuel shortages have intensified, making plowing more difficult. And the government Grain Marketing Board, which is supposed to buy corn from communal farmers, announced it is broke and cannot pay.
That leaves Zimbabwe's poorest farmers unable to sell their present crop and thus unable to buy fertilizer for the next one. How the chaotic situation will unfold is not clear, but both black and white farmers describe the situation as a tinder box waiting for a spark.
The CFU warned that Zimbabwe could lose up to 60 percent of its entire tobacco production next year because of the disruptions. Tobacco is Zimbabwe's largest single foreign-currency earner, accounting for 40 percent of the country's export receipts.

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