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Zimbabwe Farmer Sentenced to 15 Years for Murder - 2002-09-17

A Zimbabwe farmer was sentenced Tuesday to serve 15 years in prison. The sentence comes one day after the farmer, who is white, was convicted of murdering a black man who had illegally been given land on his farm under Zimbabwe's resettlement program.

Philip Bezuidenhout is the first commercial farmer to be convicted of an offense, since farm invasions began in February 2000.

Bezuidenhout's lawyer said his conviction would go down in Zimbabwe's legal history. He said his client should have been found guilty, at worst, of culpable homicide.

In handing down the sentence, Judge Ben Hlatshwayo said Bezuidenhout probably had no intent to kill his victim. But he said he had used his vehicle recklessly.

The farmer was charged with murder last year after he ran over Febian Mapenzauswa and dragged him under his truck for 20 meters at his farm in eastern Zimbabwe. At the time, Mr. Bezuidenhout's farm had not been designated for compulsory acquisition.

Bezuidenhout had denied committing murder. He told the court that he had accidentally struck Mr. Mapenzauswa as he drove away in a hurry from a threatening mob at his farm. But the state prosecutor rejected his plea and insisted he had deliberately run over Mr. Mapenzauswa.

The killing occurred in July of last year, at a time of extraordinary tensions on Zimbabwe's white owned farms. In the previous months, eight farmers had been killed defending themselves from land invaders who were often armed.

The court denied Bezuidenhout permission to appeal both his conviction and sentence. His lawyer, Eric Matinenga, said he would appeal that refusal next week.