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Mugabe Visits White-Owned Farm - 2002-05-24

In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe recently made what is probably his first private visit to a white-owned commercial farm since he approved invasions of white-owned farms in February 2000. Mr. Mugabe visited the farm of Mike Mackenzie who has received a government eviction notice to leave his homestead and farm business within three months.

Mr. Mackenzie has lived and worked on his farm 80 kilometers north of Harare all his life.

He grows a variety of crops, including maize, tobacco, wheat, soya beans, and also has a large citrus orchard.

Though his farm was invaded last year, he has been able to keep his orchard going and to grow a reduced amount of tobacco. The rest of his land is occupied by settlers sent there by the government as part of its land reform program.

Mr. Mugabe was on his way to visit a large dam in the area and to get there had to pass through Mr. Mackenzie's farm. As his motorcade was driving along, Mr. Mugabe ordered it to stop so he could see Mr. Mackenzie and tour his farm. He saw a field barren of all crops except for a small patch of cotton near the center of the field that had been planted by the people resettled on Mr. Mackenzie's land.

It is wheat-growing season now, and Mr. Mugabe asked why no wheat was planted in the field. The president's wife, Grace Mugabe, answered the question by pointing to the small patch of cotton. The field, she was suggesting, was no longer Mr. Mackenzie's to plant.

In comments to reporters, Mr. Mackenzie said he felt honored by Mr. Mugabe's visit and that the president and his wife were warm and friendly and admired the citrus orchard and said it should continue.

The visit has evoked a mixed reaction from Zimbabwe's commercial farmers, three quarters of whom are due to be evicted by August 10.

The optimists among them are hoping that now that the president has seen the effects of land resettlement, he may take steps to save the country's commercial farms. But the optimists are in the minority.

Most farmers view the visit as no more than a courtesy by President Mugabe as he was driving through a farmer's land with his 30-vehicle motorcade.