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S. African Agriculture Minister Visits Zimbabwe - 2003-01-30

South Africa's agriculture minister has visited a Zimbabwe farm taken from white owners in President Robert Mugabe's land reform program. Thoko Didiza also met with Zimbabwe officials during her visit.

Minister Didiza visited a farm called Thrums, in the Bindura district, about 100 kilometers northwest of Harare.

The previous owner, a white farmer, was forced to leave months ago under Zimbabwe's land reform program, leaving behind millions of dollars worth of agricultural equipment.

Ms. Didiza spoke with the man who took over the farm, a strong supporter of the ruling ZANU-PF party. The farmer told Ms. Didiza that he had no financial worries, and is optimistic about his future.

He is one of only two new farmers in the once productive Bindura district with good crops in the ground. Most of the other farms are largely fallow, according to aerial photographs of the area.

Ms. Didiza also met with Zimbabwean agricultural officials, including Joe Made, the minister responsible for land reform.

While the South African official was visiting the Bindura farm, a white farming family in a nearby district was making arrangements to move its possessions and sell its large dairy herd.

The family's farm has been seized by a ZANU PF supporter, who recently told a local newspaper he needs the land to grow herbs to cure, among other diseases, HIV/AIDS.

Political observers in Harare say the visits from South African officials are designed to encourage reforms in ZANU PF, so that the country will be readmitted to the Commonwealth in March.

Zimbabwe was suspended a year ago from the group, and some Commonwealth leaders are pushing for the country's expulsion.