News 24 April 2000 - posted 25 April 2000

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Zimbabwe veterans keep up pressure in land crisis - By Manoah Esipisu
HARARE, April 24 (Reuters) - Zimbabwean war veterans torched another farm overnight, abducted a black foreman and beat up his labourers as violence flared again on Monday in a bitter land dispute.
Up to 200 remained near the Dean farm in the Wedza area, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the capital, where buildings and crops lay smouldering after Sunday night's attack.

Eight policeman in a four-wheel-drive vehicle followed the veterans as they moved from farm to farm in the area on Monday, but did not intervene, a Reuters correspondent in the area said.

A black foreman who was taken away in handcuffs by the veterans on Sunday night remained missing on Monday, local farmworkers said.

Ishmael Mutengiwa, a 37-year-old labourer on the Dean farm, and his wife were badly burned after a mob set fire to their home in the workers' compound.

"We were sleeping...(they) put grass in the house and poured petrol and lit the fire. They said we must die because we are MDC (opposition party supporters). They said this is (President Robert) Mugabe's country," Mutengiwa told Reuters Television.

Some 100 kilometres north of the capital, a farm manager, his girlfriend and another woman were free on Monday after 700 veterans, followers and farm workers ended a one-day siege of the 22,000 hectare (54,000 acres) Forresters farm.

At least two other farms in the Marondera area east of Harare were occupied aggressively but peacefully on Sunday.

SUMMIT DID NOT RESOLVE CRISIS

The latest occupations came less than 48 hours after the leaders of South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia failed at a summit meeting to publicly criticise Mugabe for his handling of the land crisis that has brought the country to the brink of chaos.

The Zimbabwean president has said he supports the invasions of white-owned farms. Police have for the most part stood by as violence flared, despite a High Court order for them to move squatters off the farms.

Mugabe, in power for 20 years and facing parliamentary elections he could lose, last week described white farmers as "enemies of Zimbabwe" for backing the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and opposing his plan to give white-owned farmland to blacks without compensation.

South African President Thabo Mbeki told reporters after the summit meeting in Victoria Falls on Friday that international donors and specifically former colonial power Britain were to blame for the crisis.

Thousands of self-styled veterans of the former Rhodesia's 1970's liberation war have occupied hundreds of the country's 4,500 mainly white owned commercial farms in the past two months demanding a return of the land they say British colonists stole.

A policeman, two farmers, a farm foreman and at least two members of the MDC opposition movement have been murdered. Several farmers and many workers have been attacked and many have fled their homes for safety in town.

NEW TACTICS EMPLOYED

Farmers and workers in the Wedza area said the veterans had apparently changed tactics and were now targeting labourers.

"Pressure has eased off us and been transferred onto labour. There is constant beating of labourers every night. We are powerless to do anything," said farmer Mike Moon.

A farmworker on the Chard farm said he was picked up by a mob on Sunday night and forced to join them in beating up labourers at the neighbouring Beer farm.

"They beat us and told us to follow them to the next farm. We were forced to beat our own friends," he told Reuters.

Critics accuse Mugabe, in power with his ZANU-PF party since independence from Britain in 1980, of manufacturing the crisis to divert attention from the disintegrating economy.

Parliamentary elections are expected in May and support for his party is at an all-time low. Mugabe himself does not face re-election until 2002.

Britain and the United States are expected to agree to help fund the purchase of white-owned land for distribution to black subsistence farmers.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said on Sunday that southern African leaders had urged Mugabe to ensure talks on Thursday between Britain and Zimbabwe were constructive.

Political sources said Mugabe had been offered a deal linking an end to the farm invasions to new financial aid.

Zimbabwe's black veterans leader Chenjerai Hunzvi told Reuters on Sunday there was no reason for veterans to leave land they have occupied.

Last week, Hunzvi was found guilty of contempt for defying a court order to move veterans off the farms. He has until May 3 to prove he is doing his best to persuade his followers to leave or he risks going to jail.

An aide said HUnzvi had addressed a meeting of ZANU-PF supporters on Sunday afternoon and met with representatives of the Commercial Farmers Union in the evening. No one was available to comment from the CFU
.
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Mugabe Party Pays Farm Occupier The Associated Press, Sun 23 Apr 2000
CHIHOYI, Zimbabwe Gift Mabika had been unemployed for more than two years, so when a ruling party official offered him a job, he jumped at it. The work was easy to camp on a white-owned corn farm.

Mabika, 23, packed up a bundle of belongings and left a shanty town outside Chihoyi in northern Zimbabwe for the rolling fields of Norman Farm, joining squatters and ruling party militants who have laid siege to about 1,000 white-owned farms throughout Zimbabwe.

Mabika candidly acknowledged that he is being paid by ruling party officials, supporting accusations by the political opposition that the takeovers were engineered by President Robert Mugabe's government.

Mabika said local officials of Mugabe's ruling party are paying him $15 a month to camp on the corn farm, and that the party officials have also promised him free land.

For the past eight weeks, he and fellow occupiers have reaped corn for themselves and received handouts of food and money from party officials, some of whom have traveled through the district in trucks and four-wheel-drive vehicles with government license plates.

``Times are hard. I am happy now to get some money,'' said Mabika, a former warehouse worker who is single and has no farming experience.

Mugabe insists the occupations are a justified protest by land-hungry blacks against the ownership by whites of about a third of the nation's productive land. He has not directly addressed assertions that his ZANU-PF party is paying the squatters.

ZANU-PF said in February it had given $550,000 to an organization of veterans of Zimbabwe's independence war that is purportedly leading the farm occupations. The group said it received the money to help campaign for the ruling party ahead of parliamentary elections expected to be called for May.

Since April 15, squatters have killed two white farmers, both of whom had links to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Two other MDC members, both of them black, were killed in a firebomb attack on April 15.

Other farmers have been beaten after being accused of supporting the MDC, which is challenging Mugabe's party in the upcoming elections. Farmsteads have been trashed and black workers accused of supporting the MDC have also been beaten and had their dwellings torched.

Little violence has been reported near the 2,700-acre Norman Farm, 75 miles northwest of Harare and in the country's northern grain belt. But farming leaders say the continuing standoff has hindered the planting of the district's winter wheat that could lead to nationwide bread shortages around September.

The region often produces bumper crops. Last year, Norman Farm was a member of the so-called ``10 Ton Club'' because it had produced an average of 10 tons of corn per hectare about 2.4 acres last season.

Some whites in this area feel they are being unfairly singled out by the squatters, who are not occupying large black-owned tracts of land.

Several ruling party politicians have properties nearby, the white farmers point out, which they say are used mostly as weekend retreats and for hunting.

A senior official in Mugabe's Harare office grows some cotton and has a few cattle on his 8,400 acre-spread, according to records and maps of the Commercial Farmers' Union, which represents many white farmers.

Leo Mugabe, the president's nephew who normally lives in Harare, owns 9,600 acres nearby. Philimon Machipisa, a prominent black Harare businessman and former ruling party lawmaker, owns several adjacent properties totaling 40,000 acres.

``There's absolutely nothing happening on these properties, there's no production and just a handful of people living there,'' complained David Rockingham-Gill, a farmers union official.

Still, 20 years after the British colony of Rhodesia won independence and became Zimbabwe, about 4,000 whites own about one-third of the nation's productive land, where about 2 million Zimbabwean farm workers and their families live. About 7.5 million Zimbabweans live on the other two-thirds.


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Farm Workers Assaulted in Zimbabwe By ANGUS SHAW Associated Press Writer

HARARE, Zimbabwe - Mobs assaulted and threatened black workers on white-owned farms today and set fire to a tobacco farm, said farmers' leaders, a continuation of the political violence that has plagued Zimbabwe for over a month.

An unspecified number of workers were being treated at a hospital in the provincial center of Marondera, 45 miles east of Harare, the Commercial Farmers Union said. The extent of their injuries was unclear.

''It seems the intention now is to intimidate workers,'' said Tim Henwood, head of the union that represents white farmers. It was not known what had happened to a worker abducted Sunday evening by the squatters, he said.

Tension over who has the right to Zimbawe's farm land has raged since armed squatters began taking over white-owned farms in February. Police had been ordered by the government not to intervene in the illegal occupation of land on more than 1,000 white-owned farms.

This morning, police were escorting a convoy of about 45 farmers and their families back to the Macheke district near Marondera. The convoy stopped at each farm to ensure it was safe for the family to stay before moving on.

The rest of the about 80 families who evacuated Macheke after the abduction and shooting of farmer David Stevens on April 15 stayed away from their homes.

The funeral of Stevens, a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, is scheduled for Tuesday.

Armed farm occupiers withdrew today from a homestead near Mvurwi, 75 miles north of Harare, freeing three people who were trapped in the house overnight, Henwood said. They were unharmed.

Some farmers in the Mvurwi district vacated their homes Sunday after being warned some reputed war veterans were roaming the district with firearms, Henwood said.

Also today, the government denied its supporters were behind Saturday's bomb attack on the office of Zimbabwe's only independent newspaper. A small explosive device shattered the shop window of a gallery adjacent to offices of The Daily News, which has been sharply critical of the government for not clamping down on political violence. No one was injured.

''The blast was done by people who wanted to tarnish Zimbabwe internationally,'' said Information Minister Chen Chimutengwende.

Editor Geoff Nyarota said in today's editions that he received a written death threat last week. The sender, an unknown group calling itself The Revival of African Conscience, protested the newspaper's coverage of political violence, its ''lack of respect'' and attempts to ridicule President Robert Mugabe.

''It is a cornerstone of our editorial policy that diversity of opinion shall be encouraged, but no one feels safe in these circumstances,'' he said, adding that the paper would continue to promote the voicing of different opinions.

The newspaper was founded last year by mainly foreign media investors.

Two Daily News reporters visiting white-owned farms illegally occupied by squatters earlier this month were abducted and robbed earlier by men claiming to be veterans of the bush war that led to Zimbabwe's independence in 1980.

The reporters were released unharmed. Chenjerai Hunzvi, head of the National Liberation War Veterans Association, argued they were biased against his organizations and the ruling party.

Opponents of the government accuse Mugabe of allowing the violent occupation of white-owned farms to shore up his flagging popularity ahead of nation elections expected to be called in May.


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Villagers defy intimidation and cry out for change By Peter Foster and David Blair in Buhera District

TWO hundred people had gathered beneath the shade of a msasa tree, dancing and singing songs telling how President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party had ruined their country.

In their midst a man speaking in Shona called out the political slogans of Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. "What do we want?", he asked, well knowing what the reply would be. "Change! Change!", they chorused. "And when do we want it?", the cheerleader shouted. "Now! Now!" came the reply.

It is at political rallies such as this one at the weekend in the village of Murambinda, in the Buhera district of eastern Zimbabwe, that the MD hopes to garner enough support to topple Zanu-PF and Mr Mugabe in the elections due to be held this year. Until recently, the rural areas of Zimbabwe were Mr Mugabe's unchallenged stronghold, but the country's growing economic crisis has rapidly eroded that support.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, is working hard to build up his party's base in such rural areas despite a campaign of intimidation and violence by Zanu-PF activists. A week ago, less than half a mile from the scene of this weekend's rally, two of the MDC's local organisers, Tichaona Chiminya and Talent Mabika, were burnt to death in a petrol bomb attack as they drove out of Murambinda.

Before entering the township to address his supporters, Mr Tsvangirai stopped by the roadside where a burnt-out pick-up truck marked the place where his colleagues had been murdered. He said: "The effects of that petrol bombing have been severe. Fear has kept people away from the rallies today. This area has been the focus of Zanu-PF's intimidation campaign.

"All of our actions are now intended to ensure that people have no fear of attending our rallies. But I am confident this will not affect the election result. The groundswell of discontent is too great for Mugabe to handle." The climate of fear created by Zanu-PF has meant that all MDC rallies require protection by police armed with assault rifles and tear-gas canisters and strict security from the MDC's own guards.

But those brave enough to make public their MDC allegiance were not to be put off. Wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan, "Land to the people - not to the politicians", the crowd clapped and sang. The chorus of their favourite song translates from the Shona as: "The old people of Zanu have destroyed my country and my home."

Along the road to and from Murambinda the MDC convoy was greeted by many locals with the MDC salute - palm open, fingers spread - which indicates peace and says: "I hold no danger, I have nothing to hide."

Throughout Buhera district, which has suffered great economic hardship over the past two years, most people who would talk said they felt it was time for political change.


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Mugabe police rein in squatters

FROM SAM KILEY IN BULAWAYO AND MICHAEL DYNES IN JOHANNESBURG

WHITE farmers were hopeful yesterday that international pressure was forcing President Mugabe to curb violence, as police took their first steps to protect estates from marauding squatters.

In diplomacy at Friday's crisis summit of southern African leaders, South Africa's President Mbeki told Mr Mugabe to curb the violence immediately if he wished to retain any hope of financial aid from Britain or other Western countries, it has emerged.

Yesterday Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said that an offer of aid to pay for white farmland to be handed over to poor peasants remained on the table. "But only on the basis of the rule of law," he said.

Some farmers believe that the use of police deployments show that Mr Mugabe is trying to control the violence. Over the weekend two farmers held by invaders were rescued by police. Security forces intervened when up to 200 veterans armed with clubs invaded Lynton farm, 60 miles east of the capital, Harare, yesterday. They demanded food. In Nyamandhlovu, near Bulawayo, police patrolled white farms that had been evacuated by their owners.

At Friday's summit in Victoria Falls, neighbouring Presidents told Mr Mugabe that Zimbabwe's violence could destabilise the region.

Mr Mbeki, Mozambique's Joaquim Chissano and Namibia's Sam Nujoma told Mr Mugabe that they would lobby other Western countries to help to pay for land reform only on three conditions. They were: if Mr Mugabe withdrew the 10,000 squatters from white-owned farms, held free and fair elections before August, and ended his anti-white rhetoric.

The behind-the-scenes pact, which allowed Mr Mugabe a symbolic victory, followed urgent calls by Mr Mbeki to President Clinton, Tony Blair, and Romano Prodi, the European Commission President.


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Land Violence Crushes Tourism Market at Victoria Falls

VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe (AP) -- Violent sheets of foam and water collapse over Victoria Falls into a gorge 100 yards below, creating an awe-inspiring swirl of mist and rain that attracts mobs of tourists from around the world.

But with political turmoil and an often violent fight over white-owned farms roiling Zimbabwe, the crowds at the falls have thinned, leaving the local economy gasping and tourism businesses worried about the future.

"We're looking at cancellations daily," said Mike McNamara, general manager of Dabula Safaris. "I can't really blame people."

Over the holiday weekend, the town center was desolate, the craft market was silent and McNamara's usually sold-out champagne river cruises were attracting little interest.

"This should be one of our busiest weekends," McNamara said. "It isn't."

The town's hotels, fully booked last Easter, were only 70 percent full this year, said Andy Conn, regional chairman of the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism.

The coming months are likely to be much worse.

Many reluctant visitors swallowed their fears and came this weekend because it was too late to get a refund for their accommodations. Visitors with reservations in May and later can cancel with no such penalty, Conn said.

Thousands already have.

"We are going into a serious dive the next three months. It's looking very, very bleak," Conn said.

The falls themselves are at their peak of beauty. With the Zambezi River gorged with water from recent floods, the 5,604-foot-wide falls dump millions of cubic feet of water a minute into the giant crevice below.

The crashing spray shoots back up the hundred yard ravine, drenching delighted sightseers and turning the surrounding area into a rain forest topped by a fluffy, white cloud.

The falls have awed Westerners since explorer David Livingstone stumbled upon them in 1855. But few British, American and European tourists gathered at the falls this weekend. Many of those who did come were from southern Africa.

"We are concerned, but this being a tourist area, we kind of feel that it's geographically removed," said Andre Mail, 37, a legal adviser from South Africa who was visiting the falls with his wife.

That distance has not spared Victoria Falls from the effects of the two-month long occupation of white-owned farms by armed black squatters. Violence in recent days has claimed four lives.

The outdoor crafts market is desolate. Some vendors sleep next to their stalls, while others chat in the shade.

During last year's Easter weekend, 1,000 tourists a day perused the wooden elephants, bowls and masks laid out on tarps by the 400 people who work in the market.

This weekend, that number dropped to a few dozen, the vendors said.

"When you look around, you just see hungry faces," said Eddie Mpofu, 33.

Before the recent crisis, Mpofu and his three partners made up to $250 a day. Now on a good day they split $25.

"It's becoming critical now," Mpofu said. "We can't pay our rent."

If things don't improve, some hotels could shut down and others might have to lay off workers, said Conn, who is also the general manager of the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.

Either step would be painful. Zimbabwe already has more than 50 percent unemployment and is heavily dependent on tourism for hard currency.

Botswana and Zambia are also suffering because Victoria Falls vacations often include side trips to those nearby countries, Conn said.

Though Conn worries about the long-term effects the crisis will have on the tourism industry here, McNamara remains optimistic that the damage is not yet irreparable.

"If we get some good news in the next week and the horror stories on television stop, I think we might see an end to the cancellations. If not, the tourism cash flow will just dry up," McNamara said.

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.


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Zimbabwe veterans use Red Guard tactics on workers Reuters Apr 24 2000 12:53PM ET

WEDZA, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's self-styled war veterans and mobs of ruling ZANU-PF party youths are using classic tactics of mass intimidation to cow their political opponents.

They come at night on hijacked tractors and trailers, driving into farm workers' compounds, beating them, lecturing them on the evils of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the perfection of ZANU-PF.

Then, in the style of the Red Guards of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, they force the beaten workers to go with them to the next farm to repeat the process, farm staff say.

``They beat us and tell us to follow them to the next farm to threaten them and beat them with sticks, with fire, with anything we can carry,'' said Prosper, a 28-year-old worker from Chard Farm in the Wedza region 75 miles east of Harare.

``We are forced to beat our own friends,'' he told reporters, standing barefoot and ragged on a dirt road as he returned from neighboring Beer Farm, where he and his fellow workers were forced to attack the farm laborers overnight.

Fellow worker Vengai and his wife had to take their five-month-old son Tonderai on the raid to Beer Farm because they simply could not leave him behind.

The only people left in the compounds are those who cannot walk because of the beatings they have received. Injuries ranged from simple abrasions to fractures, concussion and burns.

NIGHTLY RAIDS ON FARM WORKERS

Night after night the pattern is repeated around the country as President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, tries to ensure it will remain in government after elections expected in May.

``The onus is firmly on the laborers now. It is political violence. This is gross intimidation,'' said local farmer Mike Moran.

He said at least 15 farms in the area had received the Red Guard treatment, and more were likely to be targeted.

Thousands of self-styled veterans of the former Rhodesia's 1970's liberation war have occupied hundreds of the country's 4,500 mainly white owned commercial farms in recent weeks demanding the return of land they say the British stole.

But critics and political opponents accuse Mugabe of trying to divert attention from the crumbling economy and crushing the MDC, which has strong support in both towns and rural areas.

``I really feel sorry for the workers. They know they are going to be beaten but they have no where to run. They have to sit and wait for it to happen,'' Moran said.

The tactics appear to be working. The number of people at previously well-attended MDC rallies is dwindling, and party T-shirts, pamphlets and posters that were a common sight three weeks ago have become a dangerous rarity.

People are so frightened that they dare not even raise their hands and wave to their friends because the gesture emulates the raised, open-palmed symbol of the MDC.

``Even waving hello to someone can be misconstrued as supporting the MDC,'' said smallholder Wayne Coombes.


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