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VOA Interview with Peta Thornycroft - 2002-08-14


JAMES: A white farmer and his family barricaded themselves inside their house in northern Zimbabwe today as landless blacks tried to evict them from the land they had worked for 27 years. There were three members of the Hinde family inside the home: the father, mother and an adult son. Also barricaded inside the building was Peta Thornycroft who reports for us here on VOA. Peta, can you tell me what happened.

THORNYCROFT: I arrived at the farm, because this was the first family to be evicted since the August 8 deadline which gave nearly 3,000 farmers until that date to leave their homesteads. I arrived at the farm there were a lot of people around the house, mostly young people. And I walked in and it was an extremely tense situation. The family had already begun to start packing and so the mob outside then came to all the exit doors and started really baying for my blood.

A few minutes later a reporter for the privately-owned Daily News arrived and identified himself to the mob. And, after a few minutes came into the house extremely frightened. Because, they really did want to hurt him. We had to then hide him under the bed and avoid them catching sight of him for the next three or four hours.

JAMES:This was Precious Shumba of the Daily News?

THORNYCROFT:Precious Shumba of the Daily News. Outside of the security gate his driver was there and he was beaten up and so was a television crew, an independent television crew but we didn't know anything about that. We were stuck inside.

JAMES: What about the family inside the house? You said they were packing. Had they decided to stay on or were they just trying to protect themselves from the crowd that had gathered outside their house?

THORNYCROFT: They decided early this morning, that's early Wednesday morning, that the threats had become so intense and they're exhausted after 30 months of living with people on their farm. And they were threatened physically this morning. People were rattling their doors and screaming at them from outside and they just decided at that moment that they should do what the squatters wanted and leave the farm. The squatters had said very clearly, you've stayed here beyond the August 8 deadline and you must now go. So they phoned a removals company which took ages to arrive and they packed essential items in their suitcases and were waiting for the removals company when I arrived.

Then Precious arrived and then there was just chaos for the next three hours. They were armed with pick axes and shovels and hoes. Some of them were very drunk. Every exit was guarded. And, they wanted Precious Shumba. That's what they wanted. They wanted him at any price.

JAMES: We understand that the family is still inside the house. Is that correct?

THORNYCROFT: No. I've just spoken and they have in fact left the house. They've been able to get off. In fact, once we left we felt our presence in the house was really making their lives dangerous. As it is, they grabbed my camera off me, they've smeared my car with sugar. For all I know there's sugar inside the engine. I don't know yet but it got me back to Harare. And we felt that it was really a matter of urgency to get ourselves away as the press, because this had focused attention on the Hinde's who were under enormous pressure. But they are safely on the road now.

JAMES: How did you manage to leave? Were you threatened at all when you and your colleague tried to leave the farm?

THORNYCROFT: I was threatened repeatedly. But at the end of the day, the Daily News driver, who was outside the security fence, came across two senior war veterans on that farm. They were genuine veterans of the independance war, older men, and he said to them please can they go and sort it out. They were much more mature men. They came in and Precious was able to actually step outside the house and talk to them. I went out another exit. Drove my car very close to where they were talking. Got out of the car and sort of escorted Precious into the seat and then we just drove off as fast as we could. But these senior veterans did manage to control the mob of about 60 who were really out of control.

JAMES: We understand that the Hinde family had expressed a desire to challenge their eviction from the land in court. That follows the precedent set last week when the High Court said farms under mortgage could not be resettled until the bank was notified. Do you know if the Hinde family is going to continue with that challenge?

THORNYCROFT: I think they're too shattered really to have come to any decision at the moment. They are still grading their annual crop of tobacco. It's a smaller crop than usual because of the settlers on their farm who've been there for 30 months. They had planted 80 hectares of wheat in agreement with the settlers on the farm. They planted 20 hectares for the settlers and were irrigating it for them and maintaining their wheat for them and trying to come to some sort of accommodation with the settlers. Now they've had to abandon that and abandon everything really. They are one of the very few farmers who haven't ever moved a single item of value off their farm since this all began. Because they were so determined that they could come to an accommodation. They are single farm owners. They're Zimbabwean citizens. They didn't have a political profile. They had an incredibly loyal work force and a very intensively farmed, piece of land.

JAMES: Peta Thornycroft, a reporter in Harare, Zimbabwe.

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