22 August 2002

1.000 single-farm owners face arrest

More than 1000 white Zimbabweans owning a single farm are among the 2 900 farmers ordered to quit their properties, contrary to assurances by the government that only multiple farm owners are being evicted, the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) said this week. At least 215 of the farmers had by Tuesday this week been arrested for defying an order by the government to vacate their properties by August 10 to make way for blacks, most of them supporters of President Robert Mugabe. "We have made 215 arrests as of this afternoon (Tuesday)," police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said. CFU president Colin Cloete, one of the farmers arrested this week for defying the order to vacate their farms, said more than 60 percent of those so far affected by the eviction orders are single-farm owners and that the government has reneged on its pledge to ensure no farmer is left without land or a home. "At least 1 000 single-farm owners are among those who will be arrested for defying the orders and one also wonders where the government would get the land on which they hope to resettle single-farm owners ordered to leave their properties," Cloete said.

Mugabe and his Agriculture Minister Joseph Made have on separate occasions assured groups of visiting foreign delegations that no farmer with a single property will be affected by the current land reforms. More than 2 900 of the 4 500 remaining white farmers were told to vacate their properties by August 10 to make way for landless blacks but more than two-thirds of the farmers have defied the order and are refusing to leave. The nationwide swoop on the farmers has further dented Zimbabwe's image as an investment destination and damaged the country's commercial agriculture at a time when more than 7.8 million Zimbabweans, or half the population, are staring starvation.

The crackdown on farmers intensified this week as it emerged that the newly resettled farmers, grouped under the Zimbabwe Farmers' Union (ZFU), did not yet have inputs to prepare the land ahead of the 2002/03 agricultural season, which starts in October. Agricultural experts say that at least 80 percent of those allocated plots under the agrarian reforms are still to move onto their new pieces of land. Officials at the ZFU, whose members are the main beneficiaries of the land reforms, were this week tight-lipped on whether their members allocated plots had moved onto the land and been assisted with inputs for the coming season. The government has promised to provide the inputs in a deal costing nearly $9 billion. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa was this week the latest senior government official to urge the new farmers to move onto their plots. "Those who have been allocated land should move to the farms and utilise it," Chinamasa told the state-controlled Herald newspaper.

Meanwhile agricultural seed manufacturers this week said they had approached the government with a request for a price increase. "In view of increased costs of raw materials used to produce seed, negotiations are currently taking place between the government and the seed industry to review the prices of seeds," a spokesman for Seed Co, one of Zimbabwe's largest agricultural input producers, said in response to questions from the Financial Gazette. He denied that Seed Co and other agricultural input suppliers were withholding seed in an attempt to press the government for higher prices, arguing that current shortages are partly due to tests presently being carried out on seed stocks carried over from last year. The tests are done to check if the seeds can still germinate. He said Seed Co also buys seed from seed growers who traditionally deliver the commodity between August and November. "The main selling period is therefore September to about December," he said. (ZWNews / Financial Gazette)

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