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Remaining White Commercial Farmers Under Renewed Pressure to Leave Zimbabwe


Zimbabwe's few remaining white farmers are under pressure with several attacked in the last area where a substantial group have survived the past five years of turmoil on the land. Farmers' organizations believe there is a final push to rid Zimbabwe of all remaining white farmers.

In remote south eastern Zimbabwe, along the Mozambique border, several farmers were attacked late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

They fled their homes under volleys of automatic gunfire. One of them was injured and needed medical treatment while two escaped after severe beatings.

In one attack early Wednesday, the leader of the attackers was allegedly a well known agent from the Central Intelligence Organization which operates out of President Robert Mugabe's office. His name was given to police by several witnesses.

The area of the attacks is home to the last remaining small coffee plantations in Zimbabwe which earn foreign currency. Zimbabwe's coffee production has dropped to a sixth of what was harvested five years ago before Mr. Mugabe sent loyalists onto white-owned land to drive out commercial farmers.

The area is not suitable for subsistence agriculture and most people in the mountainous and rugged district depend on the remaining commercial farmers for jobs.

Chipinge has the largest group of remaining white farmers left in Zimbabwe and about 80 of them continue to operate on vastly smaller pieces of land from five years ago.

Trevor Gifford, chairman of Zimbabwe's coffee growers association who lives in Chipinge said there is widespread poverty in the district. He says the farmers who were attacked this week employed hundreds of people.

He said he received warnings two weeks ago from people closely connected to government departments in Chipinge that all white farmers in the district would be forced to leave and that eight more were expected to be driven off by the weekend.

Doug Taylor-Freeme, president of the Commercial Farmers Union said it appeared that the final push to drive out the remaining white farmers had begun.

The police in Chipinge were not available for comment. Florence Buka, responsible for land resettlement programs who works out of Mr. Mugabe's office has also refused to comment on the renewed attacks.

Mr Mugabe has said the land invasions took place because white farmers had too much of the best land and that it would be given to landless peasants. But most of the best land, official records show, has been handed to the ruling ZANU PF (Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front) elite.

Before Mr. Mugabe's land invasions there were about 4,000 white commercial farmers with more than a million people working and living on their land. Many agriculturalists say that Zimbabwe's farm workers were the most skilled in Africa. Many of them now live in poverty, or have fled to neighboring countries.

Financial analysts and the government have long say that agriculture was the engine which drove Zimbabwe's economy. Its contraction by more than 60 percent over five years has spilled over into all other sectors, including peasant farmers who used to grow half of food consumed domestically.

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