HARARE, Zimbabwe The government yesterday banned 1,000 white farmers from cultivating their fields and gave them three months to vacate their homes as part of its “fast-track” land-redistribution plan.
The government has targeted 5,000 white-owned commercial farms, about 95 percent of all farms owned by whites, for seizure and redistribution to landless blacks.
In a government gazette released yesterday, President Robert Mugabe invoked special powers forcing the 1,000 farmers who had received notification of seizures to stop all work on their land, regardless of whether they had crops waiting to be harvested or appeals of the seizures pending in court.
They were given three months to leave their houses.
Lands and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made said the government would begin allocating plots on the farms to 51,000 black families.
He said 201,000 black families already had been resettled as communal farmers on formerly white farms, a number white farmers dispute as vastly exaggerated.
“This [plan] is now fundamentally complete and has been a major success,” Mr. Made said.
White farmers say more than 500 farms are lying idle as a result of political violence, while many others are in partial production, with militants occupying some of the fields.
Ruling-party militants began occupying white-owned commercial farms in March 2000, soon after voters rejected a constitutional referendum that would have further entrenched the powers of Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.
The government later announced its plans to seize the white farms.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change won 57 of the 120 elected parliamentary seats in June 2000, despite a campaign that election monitors said was rife with violence, caused mainly by ruling-party supporters.
Opposition officials accuse the government of using land seizures to garner support and further intimidate political opponents ahead of what promises to be a hard-fought presidential election next year.
Vice President Joseph Msika said Sunday the government supported arming the ruling-party militants since the abduction of one of their leaders.
“If [the opposition] are looking for a blood bath, they will certainly get one,” Mr. Msika told state radio and the government-controlled Bulawayo Chronicle.
Police arrested Simon Spooner, a white member of the Movement for Democratic Change, yesterday in connection with the abduction.
Also yesterday, police tried to search the opposition party’s offices in Harare but were turned away when they could not produce a warrant.
The government’s announcement of farm seizures would further damage agriculture in a country deeply dependent on it, said Adrian de Bourbon, an attorney for the Commercial Farmers Union, which represents most white farmers.
“I believe this is yet another nail in the coffin of commercial farming in this country,” he said.
Zimbabwe, which normally runs large food surpluses, now is facing serious shortages.
The U.N. World Food Program announced last week plans to begin a large-scale aid program next month to assist more than half a million hungry Zimbabweans.