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Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers' Union Decides Not to Pursue Class Action Lawsuit - 2002-08-22


Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers' Union has decided not to press a class-action suit against the government for the arrests and expulsions of white farmers from their farms. Once powerful union has decided that it cannot challenge the government's land-reform program.

Commercial Farmers' Union President Colin Cloete said Wednesday, individual farmers who want to challenge the government in court should do so. But he said a class-action suit would be interpreted as hostility to land resettlement.

He said the union supports the government's land reform program, but said it is wrong for productive farmers to be arrested for growing food when the country was facing starvation.

The Commercial Farmers' Union abandoned court challenges a year ago, because it said it was more constructive to engage the government in dialogue.

The tactic has yet to achieve results and hundreds of farmers have been expelled from their homesteads.

Many angry farmers have demanded that the Commercial Farmers' Union take the government to court to challenge the constitutionality of the land seizures and the legality of their recent arrests.

Mr. Cloete returned early from holiday in South Africa when arrests of union members began late last week.

He handed himself over to the police and was arrested and charged, released on bail, and then refused permission to return to his farm where he is growing winter wheat.

He was among a group of more than 200 farmers who stayed on their farms beyond an August 8 government deadline for thousands of white farmers to leave.

Mr. Cloete said many farmers were obeying new laws to pay off workers with terminal benefits, but he cautioned the benefits would only last a few months. He said the workers would then be unemployed and homeless, since they would no longer be able to retire on the white-owned farms as they had in the past.

He predicted a massive human tragedy with the forced removals of 1.2 million workers and their families. The workers will lose their jobs as the forced expulsion of 95 percent of white commercial farmers is completed.

Zimbabwe's welfare ministry has provided no assistance to thousands of farm workers and their families who have been evicted from their homes in the past 30 months.

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