- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe More than 2,000 white farmers in Zimbabwe must stop operating by midnight under a new law to pave the way for the government's land redistribution exercise.
Some 60 percent of Zimbabwe's remaining white farmers will have to close their operations. If they don't, they could face up to two years in jail or be ordered to pay $364 in fines or both.
On May 10, the government passed legislation under which a farmer whose property has been earmarked for acquisition has to stop farming 45 days after the notice of acquisition has been issued and vacate the property within 90 days.
Even before the new land-distribution law, half of Zimbabwe's white farmers have had their operations disrupted or closed down by President Robert Mugabe's shock troops, since the so-called veterans of the war of independence began invading white-owned farms 28 months ago.
Additionally, more than 400 farmers have been forced off the land since Mr. Mugabe's disputed election victory in March, and regional representatives of the Commercial Farmers Union report that hundreds more are packing up to leave.
On Friday, the government rejected applications from farmers for an extension of the Monday deadline to allow them to finish grading their tobacco, which once provided 30 percent of Zimbabwe's foreign currency.
The passing of the deadline could not come at a worse time, as the agricultural economy has all but wound down, forcing thousands of farm workers out of jobs and fueling closures of nearly 1,000 companies.
About half the population is on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and most farmers are not allowed to grow food. Although Zimbabwe has no hard currency to import food, farmers are forced to stop grading tobacco from today.
On a farm 45 miles southeast of Harare, the capital, the wife of a farmer who has already left Zimbabwe was preparing for the worst. She refused to be identified because she is still negotiating to take equipment off the farm.
"The war vets are nice to me today because the pump has broken down, and they haven't got any water. If I fix the pump, they say I can take our last tractor," she said.
She said her husband is part of a syndicate of five farmers that built an enormous grain storage complex, but that is empty now. "We haven't grown crops for two years and have run out of money," she said. The family, for a while, lived off selling irrigation equipment to neighbors.
"I don't want to leave Africa," she said. "We have no option but to try and start again somewhere else."
At Raffingore, 80 miles northwest of Harare, Jean Simon, 42, a tobacco and poultry farmer, is still desperately hoping that she can cling on. She was kidnapped and forced to run through the bush for 10 miles by Mugabe supporters in May 2000, beaten up about two years later and imprisoned for a night two months ago. "I hope the hens remember to stop laying on Monday," she said last week.
"My family has been in Africa for 200 years. I am a Zimbabwean. I don't want to be told to go to Britain."
At Nyabira, 25 miles north of Harare, Marcus Hale, 23, a grain farmer and cattle producer whose grandparents started the family farm, was also close to despair.
"We have been through it for more than two years, the abuse, the destruction, the theft of what we have built up. We are so tired," he said.


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