One of Zimbabwe's few hundred remaining commercial farmers has been beaten to death after being warned to leave, according to sources at the Commercial Farmers Union. The dead farmer, Peeter Siverton, was planning to leave the farm for his own safety.
The 71-year-old Peeter Siverton lived on his own and grew his last crop in April 2003. His children said he was under continuing threat from new neighbors and government officials who have taken over all the farms in the area known as Sherwood Block in central Zimbabwe. They said Mr. Siverton was preparing to leave his home for the relative safety of Harare.
He was beaten to death and his body was stuffed into an ant hole on his land. Police say they are investigating Mr. Siverton's death as murder, but say it was not politically motivated.
But most farmers who have survived the four-year purge of white farmers say they live in daily fear of violent eviction or worse.
A source who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution said in the past three weeks, some of Zimbabwe's top political officials have visited farms of their choice, and have given notice to the owners to leave. Among the visitors, the source said, was General Vitalis Zvinavashe, the recently retired head of Zimbabwe's defense forces. He is widely tipped by political commentators to be the front-runner to replace President Robert Mugabe when he eventually steps down.
The source said General Zvinavashe arrived on a farm 40 kilometers north of Harare last Friday and gave the owner until June to pack up and leave his farm. He also warned the farmer that, if this became public, he would confiscate all the corn the farmed had planted.
Several other political leaders, who had not taken farms up to this point, also have been reported to have visited white-owned farms and served similar ultimatums on the owners.
The Zimbabwe Tobacco Association, whose membership has dwindled to a third since the beginning of land seizures nearly four years ago, said most of its members are not planning to grow a crop next season. Tobacco exports used to earn 40 percent of Zimbabwe's foreign currency.