Various News items - 25 April 2000

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Zimbabwe's crops burn as farmers boycott sale

By Mary Braid in Harare
25 April 2000
"It is the best growing season I have ever had," says Andrew Tozer, who farms tobacco 30 miles north-west of Harare. When he was harvesting his bumper crop, Mr Tozer assumed he would be among the first on the tobacco auction floors when they open tomorrow in Zimbabwe's capital.

The start of the annual auction from the world's third-largest tobacco producer, which attracts buyers from across the globe, promises to be eloquent testimony to the mess Zimbabwe is in. Mr Tozer will be absent, and so will many of his fellow farmers.

The tobacco crop has become a target of the squatter army laying waste to white farms in Zimbabwe as political violence linked to forthcoming elections continues. In the Wedza district east of Harare, 150 people seized a farm overnight on Sunday, burning a 1,000-bale barnload of tobacco.Youths smashed the windows of the house of Farirai Mutengiwa, a black farm worker, and her husband, Ishmael, as they slept on Dean Farm, poured petrol inside and set it alight.

Mr Mutengiwa suffered severe burns to his hands, while his wife's face was badly burnt in the attack. Their assailants warned that they would be killed for supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Tobacco industry insiders say auction registrations from 4,500 white-owned farms, 1,000 of which have been invaded by so-called war veterans demanding land redistribution and backed by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), might be less than one-third of that usually expected at this stage of the tobacco cycle.

For Mr Tozer there is an obvious problem. He is in Harare, with his wife and two children, having fled his farm. His tobacco, the fruit of 18 months' labour, is still in his sheds, not yet graded for the big sale. He is not sure when it will be safe for him to return home. "I'm totally sick," he says, exasperatedly. "We just don't know what is happening."

For him, like most farmers, there are other disincentives to early sale in an auction that lasts until October. Chief is the government's deafness to repeated calls from all sectors of industry for a devaluation of the Zim dollar in response to economic deterioration. Without that, farmers will be forced to sell at enormous loss.

A call for an auction boycott by some members of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association failed because of financial and political concerns. There were fears that President Robert Mugabe, who has already labelled farmers enemies of the state, might accuse the farmers of economic sabotage. Now farmers must make up their own minds.

"It is a bloody disaster," says another one. "Political instability and economic slump mean many of us will have to play a game of wait and see."

That is bad news for the government, which is stalling on elections in the face of the first real opposition challenge in years. As economists warn of imminent financial free-fall in an already crippled country, the government's coffers lie empty. The tobacco crop was worth 220m last year and is the country's biggest foreign currency earner. President Mugabe is refusing to devalue the currency for fear of inflation, which is already at 60 per cent.

Farmers have their own pressures. The tobacco, not highly perishable, can wait, but nervous bankers cannot. "Seventy-five per cent of farmers borrow from the banks for the following year's crop," says Mr Tozer. Some cannot afford to sell at the value of the Zim dollar, but others cannot afford not to. Mr Tozer worries that, in the chaos, tobacco firms might also hold off and try to buy this year's crop later for a song. "It is a vicious situation," he says.

John Robertson, a leading economist and critic of the government, has warned that the next few weeks could see Zimbabwe fall into complete economic and social disarray. Farmers evicted from farms by the gangs led by war veterans say they have not planted winter crops, and bread and maize shortages are already predicted.

Shortages of such basics sparked riots in earlier years. If the economic situation was bad before the latest crisis, the campaign of violence and intimidation backed by Zanu-PF has made it much worse.


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Squatters attempt to burn alive black farm workers
By Anton La Guardia in Harare
A MOB of squatters set fire to a white farmer's tobacco barn and tried to burn some of his workers alive as Zimbabwean ministers kept up a tough stance before talks in London aimed at ending the crisis.

The ruins of the crop and the homes lay smouldering yesterday at Dean farm in the Wedza area, about 75 miles south-east of Harare, after the overnight attack. Farmers said the attackers abducted a black foreman, threatening to kill him, and beat up labourers accused of supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

One worker said: "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. They said this is Mugabe's country." Farmers said the squatters have switched their attacks from white farmers to the labour force, and beatings in the region were taking place nightly.

Two white farmers, a black farm foreman, a policeman and two members of the MDC have been murdered in recent weeks. The crop at Dean farm would have been worth 100,000 at last year's prices. The burning is the latest blow to Zimbabwe's biggest single foreign currency earner. Annual tobacco auctions start tomorrow.

Commenting on the burning of the tobacco, Tim Henwood, president of the Commercial Farmers' Union, said last night: "It is an ongoing part of the economic tragedy in this country. It is threatening the whole nation. Tobacco is our lifeline."

Despite the violence, after squatters' promises to "cease hostilities", there is guarded optimism in Harare that President Robert Mugabe may be preparing to defuse the crisis on land invasions. Talks on land reform between British and Zimbabwean ministers are due in London on Thursday, and may be a turning point in the two-month campaign of farm occupations.

John Makumbe, professor of politics at the University of Zimbabwe, said: "Mugabe is looking for a way to resolve the situation in a way that saves face. He is under pressure from regional leaders." Britain has indicated that it is ready to resume funding for redistribution of white-owned commercial farms to poor black peasants if Mr Mugabe ensures that the process is free of corruption and if he restores law and order.

But John Nkomo, minister for local government and housing, talked tough yesterday. Farm disputes were an internal matter, he said. "We are a sovereign state. This is an internal problem, internal to Zimbabwe. It's up to Zimbabweans to solve it." Britain had "nothing to teach us about democracy".

Mr Nkomo, one of three ministers heading the Zimbabwean team to the talks, said his side would not bring proposals. It was up to Britain to live up to commitments made during the Lancaster House talks in 1979 and at a land reform conference in 1998. Mr Nkomo said: "We would never have got to this point had the British lived up to their commitments. We would never have had any problems with Tony Blair's Government had Tony Blair accepted the commitments of the previous Governments."

Behind such intransigent posturing there may be more flexibility. Mr Nkomo admitted he was worried that unrest was crippling agriculture, the backbone of the economy. At a summit in Victoria Falls last Friday, regional leaders supported Mr Mugabe's position that Britain had to help fund Zimbabwe's land reform programme. But South African newspapers reported that behind the scenes there were much tougher demands for Mr Mugabe to end the crisis which threatens to destabilise neighbouring countries.

Diplomats suggest that the public solidarity with Mr Mugabe, and Britain's offer of a multi-million-pound aid package, are part of a face-saving deal that would allow him to climb down and go to elections later this summer with a "victory" over land. Mr Nkomo said the land invasions were as much a protest against the government as white farmers.

On the white farms there are indications of attempts to reduce tensions despite the almost daily incidents of violence and intimidation. Relatively few farms are now being occupied by squatters. Attacks are more concentrated on black farm workers, especially in the region south-east of Harare, rather than white farmers. Zimbabwean police, hitherto passive, have been more active in limiting serious incidents.

At the weekend, dozens of families that had evacuated the Virginia region south-east of Harare after the murder of a local farmer, David Stevens, returned home in convoys escorted by police.

Mr Mugabe has presided over meetings between farmers and squatters' leaders. The squatters will be allowed to remain on the farms in return for their promise to "cease hostilities". More talks are expected this week and local leaders have also begun contacts. The squatters' leader, Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi, has started touring farms to call for calm and tolerance between blacks and whites though he recently spoke of waging a new war against whites.

Tim Henwood, president of the farmers' union, representing the 4,500 mainly white large-scale farmers who own most of the prime farming land, has consistently said: "We are going to move in a positive direction very soon."


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Zimbabwe police arrest five after killing
Reuters Apr 25 2000 2:01PM ET


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HARARE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - Zimbabwean police investigating the killing of two opposition supporters arrested five suspects Tuesday in the death of a man killed in a scuffle with followers of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

Nomore Sibanda, a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), told Reuters one man had been beaten to death in Shamva, about 50 miles northeast of Harare, and the other had been killed in the capital. Both died Monday.

A police spokesman told Reuters the two men had died in separate confrontations between MDC and ZANU-PF youths.

The five suspects arrested Tuesday were being held in connection with the killing in Shamva, the spokesman said. Police said they were also investigating the Harare killing, but did not give further details.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told Reuters by telephone the first victim had been in a group attacked in a shopping area of Shamva by a roving gang claiming to support ZANU-PF.

``We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the murder,'' Tsvangirai said. In the same incident a local MDC leader, David Nhaurwa, was struck on the head with an axe and other people were also hurt.

Sibanda said the latest killings took the toll from attacks on MDC supporters to seven dead in the last three weeks -- not counting four murders on farms invaded by veterans of the former British colony's 1970s war for independence.

Two white farmers and a farm worker have also been killed in two weeks of violence in the wake of government-sanctioned invasions of hundreds of white-owned farms by veterans trying to reclaim land they say was stolen from them by colonialists.

Parliamentary elections are due to be held in May, but commentators say the violence could lead President Robert Mugabe to put off the polls, though they must be held by August.

MDC SUPPORTER WHIPPED, CLUBBED TO DEATH

Shamva MDC organizer Moses Kufandiko said the dead opposition supporter had been asked by his assailants to produce a ZANU-PF membership card. ``When he could not produce one, he was whipped and clubbed to death,'' Kufandiko told Reuters.

Rural residents have said government supporters are demanding party membership cards and say many people join the party only to avoid harassment.

Tsvangirai said supporters of ZANU-PF appeared to be attacking MDC backers at random in a campaign of intimidation.

``We believe violence against our supporters will not be scaled down until after the elections, whenever they are held. The elections are the real benchmark. They will determine where this country is headed,'' Tsvangirai said.

The MDC would not be deterred by violence. ``All over the world, when a people rise against oppression, the consequence is often violence. We shall pull through,'' he said.

Tsvangirai said a meeting in London this week between a Zimbabwe government delegation and the British government to discuss the land crisis would not offer a tangible solution.

``We believe the question is one of the future of Mugabe's government, and that cannot be settled by the London meeting. The violence at home has nothing to do with commercial farmers, it is a political equation,'' Tsvangirai said.

Mugabe has demanded money from Britain to buy land from white farmers and give it to veterans of the independence war. Britain says it will fund a land reform program, but only when the ``murder and mayhem'' aimed at white farmers has stopped.

BBC: Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK


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The brutal tactics of intimidation

Several opposition supporters have been murdered
By Greg Barrow in Harare

The campaign for land reform in Zimbabwe is slowly breaking down into a crude struggle for political supremacy, using brutal tactics of intimidation.

The farm invasions served a purpose for the governing Zanu-PF party: they terrified white farmers and their families, and forced them to reconsider their support for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Once that mission had been accomplished, the so-called war veterans, who are barely disguised Zanu-PF activists, have turned their attention to the black farm labourers.

The root of the violence in Zimbabwe's countryside can be traced to the government's referendum defeat in February this year.

This sent a severe jolt through the spine of a party which had enjoyed almost absolute supremacy for the two decades since independence.

White activism

One of the factors which swung the referendum towards the "No" vote, was the active campaigning and participation of white farmers and their work forces in the countryside.

Rural areas have traditionally been one of the strongest support bases of President Robert Mugabe's party, but after 20 years of non-participation and sometimes tacit support for the government, white farmers embraced the opposition, and took many of their workers with them.

The result was the government's defeat in the referendum, a wake-up call to all Zimbabweans that Zanu-PF was not invincible.

In the aftermath of the referendum result, the government found itself facing a potential mauling in the upcoming parliamentary elections for which no date has yet been announced.

Opposition supporters believe a calculation has been made that although much of the urban vote for the government has been lost, Zanu-PF is unwilling to quietly surrender its rural support base.

Rural vote

White farmers became the first targets of intimidation because their properties, encompassing large local work forces could become informal bases for the opposition in rural areas.

There are an estimated 350,000 farm labourers working on white farms.

If their families are included, this accounts for about one million potential voters, a significant force in the countryside which, if it voted for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change en masse, would seriously swing the rural vote away from the government.

The strategy employed by Zanu-PF has been to utilise the same squatters and war veterans who invaded white-owned land, to intimidate the black farm workers.

Victims of violence say the veterans often arrive at night, round up the farm workers and take them to nearby camps where they forced to undergo a form of "re-education".

They are often severely beaten and abused.

Torture methods such as the beating of the soles of the victims feet are not uncommon.

The message from the war veterans is that anybody who is thinking about voting for the opposition in the forthcoming elections will be killed.

The result has been a wave of terror in the countryside, and a belief among many that the violence could increase if the government feels it is under serious threat in the elections.

Opposition leaders are hoping that this further alienation of an electorate that has grown tired of the autocratic and corrupt practices of the Zanu-PF government may still respond with its feet, and vote against the government when, or if, the elections take place.


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Seventh killing, Zim vice-president has 'no regrets'.

Harare - A supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was reported on Tuesday to have been killed for failing to produce a membership card for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU(PF) party, while Vice-President Simon Muzenda declared he had "no regrets" over the murder of two white farmers last week.

At the same time, the worst start since independence in 1980 to the annual auctions of tobacco, the country's biggest and most vital commodity, appeared certain when sales open on Wednesday as farmers withheld their crop because of low prices expected as a result of the country's overvalued exchange rate.

Three senior cabinet ministers - Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge, Trade Minister Nathan Shamuyarira and Local Government Minister John Nkomo - were due to fly to London on Tuesday night in response to an invitation from British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook last week to try and ease the bitter relations between Zimbabwe and its former colonial power.

"I expect our first meeting to be more of establishing or re-establishing Britain's position (on support for Zimbabwe's land crisis)," said Nkomo.

"Thereafter the two parties will determine the way forward."

A spokesman for the MDC said supporter David Nhaurwa was struck on the head with an axe in the Shamva area, about 90 kilometres northeast of Harare, on Monday.

Local MDC organiser Moses Kufandiko said Nhaurwa had been asked to produce a ZANU(PF) card.

"He failed to do so and was badly assaulted," Kafundiko said. "He died of the wounds he sustained."

Police comment was not available.

Nhauruwa appears to be the seventh person to have fallen victim to mobs of ruling party supporters in the last three weeks as purported guerrilla war veterans and gangs of party supporters have mounted a wave of violence on white-owned farms and in the country's urban areas.

A funeral service was held in Harare on Tuesday for Macheke farmer David Stevens, also an MDC supporter, who was shot dead at point blank range by veterans on April 15.

But shortly before mourners gathered, Muzenda was quoted in the independent Daily News as saying that Stevens and Martin Olds, a rancher in the western province of Matabeleland North who was shot dead by veterans three days later, had deserved their deaths because they had "provoked" the attacking mobs of veterans.

"What I want to tell you is that those two farmers who were killed had provoked the former (guerrilla) fighters and it should not be regrettable," he said.

The wave of killings has provoked international outrage against Mugabe's government, which has fully backed the two-month campaign of occupation of white-owned farms and also ordered police not to act against the veterans.

No-one has been arrested in connection with any of the seven killings.

Observers say it is clear that the violence is a characteristic campaign of brutal intimidation of voters by Mugabe ahead of elections he has promised for next month.

"We are being accused of not respecting the rule of law," Muzenda said. "You must remember that the law should not protect the interests of the whites only."

A spokesman for the Commercial Farmers' Union, whose 4,500 members and workers have been the main target of the veterans' violence, said Tuesday that reports from the farming districts indicated the situation was "quiet".

"That's apart from the continuing serious harassment of workers and interruption of work," which included planting of the winter wheat crop and preparations for next year's tobacco crop, the spokesman said.

On Monday, veterans burnt down a tobacco barn on Dean farm at Marondera, about 75 kilometres east of Harare, and severely assaulted and burnt farm workers with flaming brands from the wreckage.

Several workers were taken to hospital and tobacco worth 235,000 US dollars was destroyed.

Stanley Mutepfa, general manager of the state-owned Zimbabwe Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board, said on Tuesday that growers had booked to deliver only 7,000 bales of tobacco for Wednesday's opening of the auction floors, against a normal booking of over 70,000 bales at the start of the season.

Tobacco industry analysts warn that tobacco farmers are waiting for Mugabe's government to approve a devaluation of the currency before they start selling their leaf.

They have long argued that the current rate of exchange will force them into severe losses and drive them out of business.

But observers say Mugabe is desperate not to allow devaluation, which would rapidly increase inflation - already over 50 per cent - immediately before elections.

"Sales on the first day usually take about five hours," said a tobacco industry source. "This lot will be gone in an hour. It's a disaster."

Last year Zimbabwe, the world's largest exporter of tobacco, sold 192,000 tons of leaf, earning 335 million US dollars. - Sapa-DPA.


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'Zim soul demands justice'

Harare - Zimbabwe's soul demands justice, a priest told about 1000 mourners at a remembrance service for the first white farmer, an outspoken opposition activist, to be killed in the current spate of violence.

David Stevens was abducted from his farm and shot at point-blank range, then dumped in the bush on 15 April.

"If the murderer or murderers are caught, they have to be brought forward, not for the sake of revenge, not for being tortured and beaten in hate, but for justice. It is necessary for the soul of the country to see justice done," the priest said.

Chaplain Terje Bjerkholt of the Norwegian Church Abroad said of Stevens: "He had a high sense of righteousness; for him a lot of things were either right or wrong. These qualities in David's life got him killed."

Stevens was a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is bearing the brunt of violence organised by supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party ahead of parliamentary elections.

Robert Fisher, a friend and fellow farmer, told the service that Stevens had exposed corruption at the local council in their Marondera district, south-east of Harare.

Few blacks were among the mourners, but there were several farmers whose land has been targeted in the wave of illegal farm occupations. Some have had their crops burned, have seen workers beaten and have had homes attacked by arsonists.

"Things can't get much worse," one friend and farming neighbour of Stevens said.

"It looks like we are going to become refugees, which is a bloody scandal," he said.

The farmer said he hoped a political solution could be found to end the farms crisis that has seen two colleagues killed.

"The Brits are good at diplomacy, we must rely on them to sort it out," Stevens's neighbour said.

Another farmer described how he had been holed up in his farmhouse on Monday with his wife and three neighbours as a mob of invaders beat up workers on his tobacco farm in the Wedza district.

"It is very dark at the moment," he said.

The farmer said he was unlikely to invest between 10 million and 12 million Zimbabwe dollars ($263 000 to $316 000) needed to plant next year's tobacco seedlings.

"I am 80 percent sure that I will not grow a tobacco crop, because I am not prepared to do so under a government that is doing this kind of thing," he said.

When asked if he held out any hope that politicians could negotiate a settlement to the land issue, the farmer said: "It all depends on the president, if he gives the word then things will all get back to normal."

Mugabe has personally endorsed the occupation of more than 1000 white-owned farms. He is demanding that Britain and other international donors fund a land distribution programme to give farms to hundreds of thousands of landless blacks.

A high-level delegation was due to leave late on Tuesday for London to hold talks with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook on the land reform programme.

Some farmers fear that Mugabe and his entourage will pocket any proceeds from the sale of land.

"I honestly doubt that farmers will get paid for their land," said one. "It would have to be a secret deal between Britain and the farmers."

Another said: "Pay out for the land. Otherwise what comes next, theft in broad daylight?" - Sapa-AFP


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