|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
relief for Zimbabwe farms
By Peta Thornycroft in Harare
Zimbabwe's commercial farmers held their 60th annual congress yesterday, but it was a day of heartache, gloom and tears for the dwindling band, some of whom now depend on charity to survive.
As another appeal went out for international donors to replenish emergency food stocks for almost half Zimbabwe's population, President Robert Mugabe renewed expired notices of acquisition on 152 farms yesterday, including five prime ranches in the Matabeleland province, belonging to the Oppenheimer mining dynasty of South Africa.
Doug Taylor-Freeme, the vice-president of the farmers' union, told the meeting that Mr Mugabe's policies had destroyed the agricultural sector. "Zimbabwe continues on its downward path to economic ruin with no relief in sight," he said. Agricultural production had fallen more than 50 per cent in the past year, he added.
One farmer who survived the three-year campaign against the mainly white commercial farmers only to succumb a month ago is Bruce Stobart, 40, who was attending his last congress.
"I went into every deal available to stay on my farm, but when a mob arrived at my house and ate my son's pet rabbits, and did all the other usual stuff, we had to go, and now there is nothing, absolutely nothing I can do."
To try to stay on his farm in Mazowe, about 20 miles outside the capital, Harare, he gave two thirds of his land, about 1,600 acres, to Mr Mugabe's supporters. Last summer he ploughed for them, planted their crops and gave them technical help.
He was supported in his effort to remain on his farm by one of Zimbabwe's two vice-presidents, Joseph Msika and the local governor, Peter Chanetsa.
But it wasn't enough. Mr Stobart, his wife and three children fled after about 25 supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF party surged towards the family home, and they are now living in rented accommodation in Harare, planning to emigrate to New Zealand next January.
Until three years ago, agricultural produce accounted for 40 per cent of Zimbabwe's exports. Now it cannot sell beef to the European Union under preferential tariffs, not only because it does not have enough quality cattle left, but because the chaos allowed foot and mouth to spread across the country.
Tobacco production is down more than 60 per cent, and Zimbabwe will grow less than 10 per cent of its normal wheat production this year. "It is catastrophic," said Alan Stockil, a farmer in charge of a national evaluation committee.
"Zimbabwe will continue to slide until agriculture recovers. That is why we are gathering data for compensation for farmers. So far fewer than half of those who have been evicted have completed estimates of what they have lost. Many are too heartbroken to do so, but we are pushing them."
Out of 4,000 productive white commercial farmers three years ago, fewer than 400 remain on their land. About 300,000 black workers and their families working and living on former white commercial farms are in abject poverty, according to the union's president, Colin Cloete. They were left out of Mr Mugabe's land reform programme and are jobless, homeless and hungry.