Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Eviction for ‘trespassing’ farmers

Eviction for ‘trespassing’ farmers

 From The Sunday Independent (SA), 31 January

 Peta Thornycroft

 Harare – If the war vets, don’t get you, the magistrates will. And if they fail, the army will. And when all human agents fail, the drought is waiting. And don’t in any way count on your old friends the MDC to help you.  Zimbabwe’s astonishingly resilient few remaining white farmers are still being tormented by all the modern plagues of Mugabe as they try to cling to their land, mostly just the little patches that are all that remain of their original estates. Late this week Trevor Gifford, the immediate past president of the Commercial Farmers’ Union and a fellow farmer, Dawie du Toit, were arrested in Chipinge, eastern Zimbabwe. Du Toit and three other white farmers from the Chipinge district had been convicted of trespassing on their farms on Tuesday and given 24 hours to pack up their homes and businesses, or face a year in jail. Gifford, who comes from the same district was arrested while assisting his convicted neighbours.

 The magistrate, Samuel Dzuze had refused the farmers leave to appeal their conviction and sentence. Lawyers in Harare then decided to launch an urgent application to the High Court for a postponement of the eviction of the four families which was granted in chambers by Judge Kudya. But it didn’t help. Shortly before his arrest, Gifford said Du Toit had tried to deliver the Harare High Court order to magistrate Dzuze and various senior policemen in the district. Neither court officials nor the police would accept the document and Du Toit was arrested, accused of contempt of court. “Dawie was arrested as he tried to hand over copies of the High Court order. I am going down to the police station now to attend to Dawie, and expect to be arrested myself. No lawyer in the Chipinge district will act for us now, as they are too scared,” Gifford said on Thursday evening. Minutes later Gifford himself was arrested at Chipinge Police Station and also accused of contempt of court.

 Although Gifford was not convicted of trespass this week, he is regularly before the courts, as are the remaining 150 or so white commercial farmers around the country. The properties of the four convicted Chipinge farmers, including machinery, crops and livestock, have been plundered by top Zanu PF officials in the area. Dzuze is the same magistrate who convicted two Movement for Democratic Change MPs last year, which led to their losing their seats in Parliament. The MDC has repeatedly said selective prosecution by the Zanu PF-controlled justice ministry is one of the more serious contraventions of the political agreement which led to the inclusive government nearly a year ago. Similar charges to those
 against the four Chipinge farmers are being prosecuted in several other magistrate’s courts around the country against about 150 others, who represent about half the white farmers who have somehow managed to survive on vestiges of their original landholdings.

 The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) reported that the situation in court in Chipinge was tense, with a heavy police presence. One of the farmers convicted was Algernon Taffs, who was jailed for two hours after the ruling, with police also warning him that he would be jailed for five years if he ignored the court ruling. The CFU also reported that the farmers were desperately moving their possessions into the local Dutch Reformed Church for safety. “We are packing as quickly as we can,” said one of them over a poor quality mobile network connection. “We are frantic. We are the last avocado producing farm in Zimbabwe,” he said. At least another five Manicaland farmers were forced out of their businesses
 last week.

 Meanwhile Zimbabwe is so short of rain this summer that most maize is now a write-off, according to farmers and crop experts at the CFU in Harare. According to the meteorological office in Harare, there is no money to seed water-rich clouds. Agriculture minister Joe Made said last week that crops could have been saved by irrigation, but he said much of Zimbabwe’s irrigation equipment had been destroyed by departing white farmers. The farmers deny this, saying they have photographic proof that hundreds of
 millions of Rands of irrigation equipment was dug out by new farmers and sold off as scrap metal to South African buyers over the past few years. For those farmers who slipped past the war vets and the magistrates and the police, the army would be waiting, Zimbabwe’s Zanu PF defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa warned this week. He said the army would be used to ensure that the controversial land reform programme was never reversed.

 This warning seemed to be directed at his fellow cabinet ministers in the unity government, from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which the farmers helped to win parliamentary elections last year. But the threat seems superfluous, as the MDC too seems to have abandoned the farmers. The global political agreement which both the MDC and Zanu PF signed in September 2008, paving the way for the unity government last February, says Zimbabwe’s “land reform” programme is irreversible. The agreement
 also committed the troubled inclusive government to a land audit to ensure that agricultural land was distributed fairly and was used productively. But Mnangagwa told military cadets anyway that land reform
 was one of the major priorities of the national defence force, which he would deploy to defend it if necessary. “Land is the country’s heritage and needs no question from foreigners on how we manage it,” he said. Zimbabwe’s economy, which used to depend on agriculture, began collapsing after white farmers, who grew 90 percent of export crops, were forced off their land.


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