|22 March 2001
ZIMBABWE: Commercial farmers
want urgent dialogue with government
Zimbabwe's white farmers
banded together on Wednesday after a landmark meeting and pledged to work with
the government to resolve the nation's land reform crisis - this after an
apparent split within their ranks over the violence-wracked scheme. The farmers
reaffirmed their support for their union's current leadership, expressed their
"absolute commitment" to negotiating with the government, and pledged to work
to find a solution to the land reform crisis.
"It was a very
progressive congress, we walked in there apparently divided," said Malcolm Vowles,
spokesman for the mostly white Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU). "The
rift, if there ever was one, has been mended," he added. The special CFU
congress came after more than a year of bloodshed in Zimbabwe's countryside
linked to the forcible invasions of hundreds of white-owned farms by
self-styled veterans of the nation's liberation war.
"As farmers we
accept we must do more to end the crisis on the land. We've been fighting for a
principle, but the result of waging that war has been a disaster for all
involved in agriculture here," Vowles said. More than 34 people died in
political violence last year in Zimbabwe, while thousands more were beaten,
raped or intimidated.
In hopes of ending the violence, former CFU
president Nick Swanepoel ran advertisements in local papers last week urging
farmers to drop all opposition to the scheme to resettle poor blacks on five
million hectares of white-owned land. His plan called for dropping all legal
action against the government and immediately moving 20,000 families on to
plots of two to five hectares each, providing them with free tillage,
fertilizer and seeds.
After their meeting, the CFU remained silent
about its new proposals for ending the crisis, but adopted none of Swanepoel's
recommendations publicly. The union did ask Swanepoel to work with a team of
negotiators in dealing with President Robert Mugabe's government, of which
Swanepoel is considered a supporter.
"Commercial farmers re-confirmed
their absolute commitment to urgent dialogue with government, without
preconditions, and to assisting in the successful, orderly implementation of
land reforms," said a statement released at the end of the meeting. "Delegates
strongly endorsed new proposals, expressing unity of purpose and support for
the CFU pragmatic new thinking and vision," the statement said.
government broke off dialogue on with the CFU last week, accusing them of
deceit in the protracted negotiations. Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said
the farmers were part of an external anti-government publicity campaign, which
had resulted in most international donors cutting off aid to the country. But
presidential press secretary George Charamba said that negotiations could
be re-opened depending on what the farmers have to offer.
always been prepared to listen to the white farmers, let's see what new
proposals they come up with," he said. Farming officials declined to elaborate
on the new proposals, but participants in the meeting said they were reluctant
to adopt all of Swanepoel's plan, especially his call for abandoning their
The farmers have already won a Supreme Court ruling
declaring Mugabe's land reform plan unconstitutional and ordering the
squatters' eviction. But rather than following the court's order, Mugabe's
government has heaped pressure on the judges who handed down the decision and
cracked down on the independent press.
The CFU's new conciliatory line
could mean an end to the deadlock that has contributed to Zimbabwe's economic
slump - the worst since independence. "We'll talk to government as soon as
they'll see us," Vowles said, "Yes, we have concrete proposals to put to them,
let's hope we can solve this through further negotiation." (IRIN)