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Zimbabwe Launches Drive to Remove Last White Farmers


Zimbabwe's remaining few hundred white farmers are under intense pressure to abandon their land, crops, homes and workers on the eve of a unity government. Most white farmers were evicted from their land by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's government earlier this decade.

Zimbabwe's remaining white commercial farmers are being threatened with violent eviction or charges of trespass. Several top vegetable producers have already been evicted from their small holdings on the northern edge of Harare.

Chris Jarett of the group Justice for Agriculture tells VOA some of the farmers being targeted are among the 78 who late last year, won a case before a Southern African Development Community tribunal that declared their evictions illegal and ordered the Zimbabwe government to re-compensate them.

Southern African Federation of Agricultural Unions vice president Doug Taylor-Freeme says vindictive hardliners of the ZANU-PF party are behind attempts to drive remaining commercial farmers off their land because they are trying to grab what they can before the unity government is effectively up and running.

Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai is to be sworn in as prime minister Wednesday in the power-sharing government with President Robert Mugabe.

Taylor-Freeme says it is distressing that members of Zimbabwe's Department of Justice had allowed themselves to be part of planning this concerted action against farmers, which began about three weeks ago.

He says the campaign and court intitiatives to immediately evict most of the remaining white farmers would be a national disaster for this season, and to rebuilding Zimbabwe's food production in future.

One of those who has been summoned to court is prominent food producer Charles Lock. He was acquitted of trespass last year for being on his own farm. Now a summons has been delivered to his workers for him to appear in court Wednesday, the day the new unity government is sworn in to power. He is away from his farm on business at present, but his lawyers say they are concerned that his acquittal could be reversed.

The Mugabe government began a compulsory program to redistribute land to blacks in 2000. Charges that the program is designed to reward loyal Mugabe deputies have persisted since then.

Economists say Zimbabwe's land program is a large factor in the country's failing economy.

Jarret says the loss of production on seized farms spreads to businesses such as millers, soap makers, and oil producers - many of which have not opened their doors since Christmas. In addition to their own families, the farmers each employ between 10 and 150 workers and each of the worker's families average about six individuals - all of whom lose their homes and livelihood when evicted.

Taylor-Freeme also tells VOA that commercial farms are among the few rural areas where cholera has not taken hold as workers have access to clean water and safe sewage systems. The World Health Organization says nearly 100,000 people have been infected and about 3,500 have died in the cholera epidemic.

The WHO also says more than seven million Zimbabweans, more than half the population, need emergency feeding in a country that was a net exporter of food before land reform.