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Zimbabwe's White Farmers Prepare to Leave - 2002-06-22

More than 60 percent of Zimbabwe's white farmers are going to have to stop working on their farms by midnight Sunday. When legislation governing the seizure of white-owned farms was amended in May, farmers were given 45 days to stop farming and another 45 days in which to leave their homes.

Farmers have been warned that if they are caught working on June 24, they may be arrested and charged, and if convicted, they could be sentenced to up to two years in prison.

There were sad scenes at many of Zimbabwe's major food-producing farms in the Mashonaland province during the last week.

President Robert Mugabe launched the often violent seizures of white-owned farms 28 months ago. He said white farms, which are on the best land, had to be given to landless blacks.

Many farmers were packing up to leave. The people now settled on the white-owned land prevented farmers from taking their moveable assets, such as tractors, off the farms. This is illegal, but farmers say few policemen are prepared to intervene to enforce the law.

This shutdown comes when only 20 percent of the tobacco crop has been processed for sale at the annual auctions. The crop provides Zimbabwe with one-third of its foreign currency.

Bankers say the Zimbabwe government has no foreign currency to import food.

On a tour of the traditional wheat-growing areas last week, it was clear that Zimbabwe's food crisis will deepen. Less than 20 percent of normal acreages have been planted to wheat.

The remaining 40 percent of farmers unaffected by the deadline on Monday will have to shut down operations by mid-August.

Details published in the state press over the last few months show that many of the most productive farms have been given to ruling party politicians, civil servants and members of the security forces.

The United Nations says six million Zimbabweans, or nearly half the population, are on the brink of starvation.