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Two Top Members of Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers Union Resign - 2002-10-30

The two top men in Zimbabwe's mainly white Commercial Farmers Union quit their jobs late Tuesday. The leaders lost the support of union members months ago.

Colin Cloete, president of the farmers' union, was forced to quit under pressure from the few hundred remaining members in the union. In fact, many of them were calling for his resignation several months ago.

David Hasluck, the union's director, was a long-serving employee. He quit because he said he was closely associated with Mr. Cloete's leadership.

The split in the union started a year ago, when the union leaders decided to stop legal challenges to seizures and invasions of white-owned properties.

Mr. Cloete actively promoted dialogue with the government and told farmers that going to court would be counterproductive.

He hoped his approach would persuade the government to reconsider its policy of seizing white-owned farms. But the government's policy never changed and 95 percent of Zimbabwe's white farmers have been forced to leave their farms. In many cases, supporters of Mr. Mugabe invaded farms and violently forced the farmers and their workers to leave.

At the height of violence, Mr. Cloete said the first priority was to save lives of farmers and workers. He believed that any legal confrontation at that time would lead to further violence.

Under Mr. Cloete's leadership, the union was also reluctant to publicize hundreds of cases that it had documented where Mr. Mugabe's family, friends and political associates took the best of the white-owned farms, including the equipment on them.

As recently as three years ago, the Commercial Farmers Union had more than four thousand members. But after Mr. Mugabe lost a referendum on a new constitution in February 2000, the union and its members became targets. Mr. Mugabe viewed the farmers as supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which worked against the proposed constitution.

He retaliated against the farmers by saying they were enemies of the state and mobilized his supporters to force them off their land.

There are now no more than 300 fully productive white farmers left in Zimbabwe, and many of them, including those who produce the country's milk, are under pressure.

Most of the staff of the union are now leaving, and a few remaining white farmers will take over the day-to-day running of the office.