- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

CONDWELANI FARM, Zimbabwe "Can I offer you a cup?" asked Terry Hinde, gesturing toward the tray laid out in the drawing room for what was almost certainly his family's last afternoon tea after 28 years on Condwelani Farm in northern Zimbabwe.

On the manicured lawns outside the farmhouse, about 200 rowdy "war veterans," militants from President Robert Mugabe's ruling party, were keeping a none-too-benevolent eye on the Hinde family.

On Friday, a government eviction order for 2,900 white farmers, among them the Hinde family, came into force the culmination of a two-year campaign of state-sponsored violence against the minority. Like 70 percent of Zimbabwe's white farmers, the Hindes defied the deadline and refused to leave.

Early yesterday morning, the veterans, who have occupied Condwelani since February 2000, took the law into their own hands. The youths, most of them too young to have participated in Zimbabwe's struggle against white minority rule in the 1970s, marched to the house and ordered the Hinde family to leave immediately.

The youths, wearing T-shirts depicting the face of Mr. Mugabe and brandishing clubs and other crude weapons, surrounded the house.

Terrified, Mr. Hinde, his wife, Sue, and son, Christopher, barricaded themselves in a corner of the house.

The enraged veterans marauded through the house, turfing the family's possessions onto the lawn and drinking their beer. The police were summoned through the radio but did not intervene.

Since the farm invasions began, the security services have turned a blind eye to acts of violence carried out by veterans, who are believed to have killed 12 white farmers and scores of their black employees in the past two years.

Fueled by the alcohol, the veterans smashed their way through locked doors into the family bedrooms, stealing money and other valuables.

They ordered Mr. Hinde to hand over a Zimbabwean journalist working for the independent Daily News, accusing the reporter of publishing lies about the land-reform program. They smashed a club into Mrs. Hinde's arm as she moved toward the window to draw the drapes.

When a movers' van eventually arrived, the mob began to calm down. The journalist managed to make his escape and Mrs. Hinde made a dash for the car. Raining blows on the car, they chanted, "Go back to Britain," as she drove out of her farm for the last time.

"We built this farm up from nothing; that's no mean accomplishment," Mrs. Hinde said, wiping away tears as she pointed the car toward the capital, Harare. "Just to walk away from it, it's terrible. Surely there must be some justice somewhere."

The Hinde family said they have worked with the squatters since the invasion of their farm, handing over much of their land to them. They said they defied the order because a challenge against the eviction was before the courts.

The vast majority of evictions are being challenged in court by a farmers' action group called Justice for Agriculture.

In an important test case last week, farmer Andy Cockett had his compulsory acquisition order overturned after the High Court ruled that mortgaged farms could not be seized unless the bank had been informed first.

Most white farms, including Condwelani, are mortgaged.

The eviction of the Hinde family is the first of its kind since the deadline expired and has prompted fears of further violence. Reports of intimidation by war veterans have increased since the weekend and one elderly couple narrowly escaped death when their house was set on fire.

Veterans squatting on a farm in Banket, northwest of Harare, yesterday opened fire on a white tobacco farmer who had refused to leave his land, representatives said. He is reported to have escaped unhurt.

Soldiers and police also ordered five farmers off their land in southeastern Zimbabwe on Tuesday, but no arrests were made.

Mr. Mugabe said Monday that the government would not let up in its campaign to oust the farmers, part of a program he says will correct the iniquities of land redistribution during the colonial era.

Agricultural lobby groups said more than 80 percent of the white farms were bought from Mr. Mugabe's government after independence from Britain in 1980. Instead of being allocated to landless blacks, many farms have been given to political allies and businessmen associated with Mr. Mugabe.

Aid workers and farmers say the campaign against the white farmers has contributed to a looming famine, with 6 million people, half Zimbabwe's total population, facing starvation. In addition, more than 400,000 farmworkers have been left jobless by the policies.

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