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Zimbabwe: Black Farm Workers Forced Away from Homes - 2001-08-15

Thousands of farm workers in Zimbabwe have been forced to flee as invasions and looting of mostly white-owned commercial farms have spread. In the worst affected area of Chinhoyi, more homesteads have been wrecked and families forced to flee.

Over the last four days, about 3,000 black farm workers and their families have been forced out of their homes in the area around Marondera, 80 kilometers southeast of Harare, the capital. They were forced to leave by militants who support President Robert Mugabe.

The Commercial Farmers Union describes the plight of the workers as "desperate." A spokesman for the union says the workers have the status of internal refugees. "They have no place to go," said a Farmers Union spokesman, "and in many cases are squatting on the roadside without food or shelter." The spokesman added, "We are trying to help them as much as possible."

At Chinhoyi, 100 kilometers northwest of Harare, mobs have ransacked another 10 homesteads, bringing the total number to at least 40 since clashes erupted with pro-government militants a week ago.

A farmer in the area said that at least 4,000 farm workers have been made destitute and that many have been badly beaten up.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena says at least 40 people have been arrested for looting at Chinhoyi. He accuses farm workers of largely being responsible. However, both the farmers union and farmers in the area strongly dispute the police assertion and blame mobs of government supporters.

The Zimbabwe government has blamed white farmers for the unrest, after 21 farmers were arrested more than a week ago on charges of assaulting black squatters on their land. The farmers remain in custody. They accuse the Mugabe government of organizing the farm raids.

The white farmers have praised workers for their bravery in trying to stop looting and saving homesteads from being destroyed.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, predicts that invasions will spread to Zimbabwe's towns and cities. Mr. Tsvangirai said at a news conference on Tuesday that the lawlessness is part of a campaign by Mr. Mugabe to destroy all opposition before presidential elections next year.

"Mugabe's strategy," said Mr. Tsvangirai, "is to destroy the country and go down with the country." He urged South Africa to apply more pressure to force President Mugabe to end the violence.

Mr. Tsvangirai criticized the United Nations and the African Union - formerly the Organization of African Unity - for not taking a stronger line. He described the African Union as "a conspiracy of dictators."