Mugabe moves against city whites
By Peta Thornycroft in Harare
President Robert Mugabe has begun confiscating and vandalising white-owned property in Zimbabwe's cities, after taking over most farms in the countryside.
His police last week evicted hundreds of people from their homes eight miles from the centre of Harare.
Ian Ross, 68, the owner of Gletwyn farm, incorporated into the capital in 1996, could hardly control himself as he recalled how police turfed his workers out into the rain.
"They arrived to evict the workers, which they did piece by piece, village by village compound by compound," said Mr Ross.
"The workers were dumped. They moved into sheds, into chicken runs. They were living like rabbits."
Mr Mugabe began violently evicting and dispossessing some 4,000 white farmers and hundreds of thousands of their workers in 2000. The whites were punished because the president said they supported and funded the opposition which almost beat him in the election that year.
But the campaign against his people escalated last winter when he sent bulldozers to flatten hundreds of thousands of small homes and markets in opposition areas in cities.
The United Nations said 2.4 million people were caught in Mr Mugabe's "Clean out the Filth" campaign. Now his cronies and the police are wreaking havoc on a daily basis on Gletwyn.
The police say homes will be built homes there. This will benefit a property company, Divine Homes, whose chairman is the deputy finance minister, David Chapfika.
Divine Homes says it is selling state land, Gletwyn, in 600 plots without title deeds or planning permission. The "problem over title deeds will sort itself out when all this settles down", said Washington Jengaenga, a Divine Homes executive.
John Worsley-Worswick, of Justice for Agriculture, said the takeovers were inevitable.
"This is the first full wholesale attack on a huge tract of land within the city limits," he said. "This is not anarchy by default. It has been well designed. No property is safe. They have nearly finished off the farms so they have to move to towns and cities."
Mr Ross was so disturbed by the latest attack on his workers that this week he won a court injunction restraining police. They were ordered to leave the workers alone and dismantle their barricades. But they were still in place three days later.
Divine Homes' earth-moving equipment now pounds across Gletwyn's 1,800 acres, chewing up fields, upending trees, destroying bore hole pumps, pipes and reservoirs.
"If I go, it will be in a box," Mr Ross said before driving off down a muddy track.
9 февраля 2006 г. - Мугабе зовет белых фермеров назад:
Mugabe to ask whites back in land grab U-turn
By Peta Thornycroft in Harare
President Robert Mugabe has begun to reverse his "insane" land grab and offer some white farmers the chance to lease back their holdings in Zimbabwe.
With the fastest shrinking economy in the world, Mr Mugabe has had to backtrack on six years of chaos and his own determination to rid the country of all white farmers.
In an orgy of violence, Mr Mugabe seized the land, homes, equipment and infrastructure of about 4,000 white commercial farmers who produced almost half of Zimbabwe's foreign currency.
The U-turn is expected to be announced within days. The ruling Zanu-PF party's politburo has been informed and selected journalists in the state-controlled media have been briefed on how to spin the policy reversal.
About 250 whites remaining on small portions of their farms will immediately be offered state leases for the land they used to own. Some will be hoping that their full land holdings will be restored at a later stage.
The leases will, farmers hope, give them some legal protection from local warlords continuously trying to evict them or seize their equipment or crops.
In a second stage, the leases will be extended to some white farmers who have already been evicted, particularly where there is no activity on that land. Some fled to Britain, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa and are desperately homesick.
The government is expected to admit in the next few days that it has only used about 50 per cent of the land it seized. In reality, land economists say the figure of idle land is nearer 80 to 90 per cent.
The new policy is understood to have been approved by Mr Mugabe but it is unlikely he will announce it, as the government hopes to play down the U-turn.
It will be executed by two of his most trusted lieutenants: the lands minister Didymus Mutasa and the agriculture minister Joseph Made. Neither was available for comment yesterday.
In anticipation of this change of policy, the Commercial Farmers Union has advised some members to apply for leases, and some farmers have already filled in lease applications at the agriculture ministry.
The union yesterday issued a rare statement calling for a ''moratorium on land and agricultural policies''. All those involved in agriculture should get together and "rebuild the entire industry to return as the principal employer of labour and generator of food and foreign exchange", it said.
"We have the energy and capacity to help bring Zimbabwe back once again to be the bread basket of the sub-continent."
The statement was signed by the CFU president, Doug Taylor-Freeme, who would not comment on the change of policy. "We need to create some stability on the ground for existing farmers if we want any investment in agriculture. That's the first step.
"All land has been acquired by the state for one reason or another but the issue now is who uses that land? We believe it should be farmers. When you look at the state of agriculture and the state of the economy we need to find the right balance."
Behind closed doors last week, the International Monetary Fund told Zimbabwe's finance minister Herbert Murerwa - who has helped himself to a white-owned farm - that land seizures should halt immediately and that without increased agricultural production there was no chance of halting Zimbabwe's slide.
While this is a reversal of Zanu PF's policy to rid Zimbabwe of all white farmers, some of those who lost their holdings are cynical about any offers from the government. Many will need convincing that the offer is genuine unless it is openly endorsed by Mr Mugabe and, even then, they may still be sceptical about a president who has broken promises in the past. "The government vastly underestimates the damage of its insane policies," said one of Zimbabwe's former top cereal producers. "They probably believe that allowing some of us to return will turn the economy around in a single season. We won't be able to do anything without international finance, and we won't get that until there is political reform," he said.
"It's bloody miserable out there. All our friends have gone, our equipment has been broken, irrigation has been vandalised, our homes have been wrecked, the roads are a mess, our workers have gone so why should we return? I am sure there will be some clots who are so damn miserable in other countries or living in towns that they will go back.
"We should be campaigning for compensation, not going back to help people who wrecked our country."
Правда, еще полгода назад эти фермеры сказали, что думают по этому поводу:
White farmers reject Mugabe plea to return
By Toby Harnden , Chief Foreign Correspondent
White farmers evicted by Robert Mugabe's government have reacted with contempt to an offer that they should return to Zimbabwe to take part in "joint ventures" with those who brutalised them and stole their land.
Gideon Gono, the governor of the country's central bank, suggested the idea last Thursday as a possible solution to Zimbabwe's economic crisis.
A Zimbabwean woman surveys her devastated maize crop
Greg McMurray, a tobacco farmer who fled Zimbabwe in 2001 and is now a grinder at a factory in Wiltshire, said: "These are empty promises. We have had all the assurances before and then they just turn around and change their minds.
"I had them coming into my garden and threatening my fiancée. Men with a bit of beer in their bellies told me, 'We'll come and burn you and your wife and your house'.
"I would love to go back but the economy's in ruins. The place is a shambles. So many professional people have left. It would need a new regime before most of us would think seriously about going back."
The prospect of a return for white farmers was dangled by Mr Gono, Mr Mugabe's leading economic policy maker, in a rambling three-hour statement in which he also announced a 31 per cent devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar.
He said: "In order to ensure maximum productivity levels, there is great scope in the country promoting and supporting joint ventures between the new farmers with progressive-minded former operators as well as other new investors, so as to hasten the skills transfer cycle."
During the evictions, some white farmers were murdered and many others were beaten and their families abused. The evictions prompted the collapse of the agriculture sector, the traditional engine of the economy.
Those who took over the farms had no specialist knowledge - and most farmland now lies uncultivated. The machinery has been stolen, buildings have been plundered and the former workers are starving.
Eddie Cross, the economics spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change - which was heavily defeated by the ruling Zanu-PF party in recent parliamentary elections that were widely condemned as being rigged - said that Mr Gono was desperate.
Mr Cross said: "He's got no power and he can't deliver. The reality is a thousand miles away from everything he says. He wants to regain some credibility with multilateral institutions. He has meetings with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank next month. This is about having something to say to those guys. The only salvation will be a change of government and a return to the rule of law.
"Until then, no one's going to invest here or come back. Who on earth is going to do anything in agriculture when there is such dispute over land ownership? They'd be mad."
While Mr Gono's words could be interpreted as an admission that the land seizure policy pursued by Mr Mugabe - which led to him becoming an international pariah - had failed, they offered little comfort to the dispossessed.
One tobacco and cattle farmer, who was forced off his property by armed squatters in 2000, said: "He can't be serious. My house has been burnt down, my fields destroyed and he wants to invite me back?
"There has to be a proper return to respect for property rights. We need facts, not words and a legal framework. No one's going to go back on the basis of this."
The man, who asked to remain anonymous, is among 1,600 evicted landowners who have stayed in Zimbabwe and are attempting to get compensation.
In 2000, there were 4,500 white farmers. Now only 400 remain on parts of their farms, many having made deals with Mugabe's regime. Thousands of others lost everything and have had to seek help to set themselves up in ventures outside Zimbabwe.
Colin Ransome, of the Zimbabwe Farmers Trust Fund, a Scottish-registered charity, said: "A lot of those who settled in Britain have young families and new jobs. Everyone is very wary. Iron-clad assurances would be needed."