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12August 2000

In today's issue :
  • "Where do we go?"
  • Land grab a "noble effort"
  • Election results challenges
  • Handless driver
  • Wildlife being annihilated
  • Vet applies for asylum in UK

From The Independent (UK), 11 August

Half a million workers ask: Where do we go when Mugabe seizes farms?

Virginia, Mashonaland East - Weeds thrive in Alistair Keith's neatly ploughed fields. He should be planting his tobacco seedlings now. Instead, he is expecting landless peasants to arrive any day to peg out his farm for themselves. "Who in his right mind would go and plough one million Zimbabwe dollars into the ground without knowing if the land is still theirs?" he reflected. Under the "accelerated land distribution programme" currently underway, Mr Keith has every reason to believe that Chikumbakwe Farm, which he bought 13 years ago, is no longer his. Last Thursday, he was served with an acquisition order for 2,000 of his 3,400 acres. On Monday, 200 people arrived to claim them. He sent them away but he believes they will return. "There is no compensation, just worthless government bonds. I have been told that the farm will be taken even if I appeal. The whole process is being carried out illegally, with the government's blessing," said Mr Keith, 43. The Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, says 500,000 families - an estimated three million people - will be moved on to 12 million acres of land before the start of the rainy season in October. An initial list of 804 farms, including Mr Keith's, which have been designated for resettlement, is to be expanded in the next few days to 3,041. Apart from the dispossessed owners, farm workers - many of them from Mozambique and Malawi - could find themselves deported en masse.

In common with many of the 4,500 commercial farmers whose tobacco, vegetable, fruit and flower crops yield 40 per cent of Zimbabwe's foreign currency earnings, Mr Keith was born in Zimbabwe and has no other passport. When liberation war veterans occupied his farm in February, he believed he was just the target of a pre-election publicity stunt by Mr Mugabe's ruling party, Zanu-PF. He said: "The idea was to intimidate the rural population into voting for Zanu-PF. But then, in the June elections, Zanu-PF only narrowly won. Now Mugabe is deploying his supporters for the 2002 presidential elections."

There is vague talk from government sources about starter kits - seeds, fertiliser and spades - for the new settlers, but no word of leases or of formalising the peasants' rights to any of the acquired land. Supporters of the opposition MDC will not benefit from the hand-out. To Conrad Kakonye, the 47-year-old farm manager who works for Mr Keith, Zimbabwe's present free-for-all is more frightening even than for his boss. "The war veterans came on Monday and asked me to show them around," he said. "They want to divide the land into 30-acre blocks and they said that three of us staff - two garden boys and the shopkeeper - would be allowed to stay. The rest of us will be moved off. "My family is originally from Malawi and we will have nowhere to go if the veterans throw us off this land. Mr Keith employs 96 people full-time and if you add our families, that makes nearly 500 people."

The arithmetic of Zanu-PF's resettlement programme is staggering. Not only are the listed farms apparently chosen at random by war veterans and provincial governors but the whole scheme, if carried through, will leave more losers than winners among black people in Zimbabwe. The General Agricultural Plantation Workers' Union, which represents the country's 700,000 commercial farm workers, estimates that 500,000 people will lose their jobs if the government compulsorily acquires 3,041 properties. The union's general secretary, Phillip Munyanyi, said: "We are looking at millions of people being displaced. While there has been talk of compensating farmers, there has been none about compensating workers."

Yet President Mugabe has the whip hand - he even received the endorsement this week of leaders from neighbouring countries who met in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, under the banner of SADC. And the President has Britain and the international community over a barrel. When the almost inevitable food shortages start to bite early next year, Mr Mugabe's calculation is that the rest of the world will not be able to sit back and allow ordinary Zimbabweans to starve.

Mr Keith, his wife, Judy, and their three teenage boys do not, at least for now, intend to pack their bags and leave for Australia. He makes a lot of money. His farm has an annual turnover of Z$20m and last week's devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar will increase his returns on the baled tobacco he is still waiting to sell. "The uncertainty is awful but on the land that they leave me I will still be able to grow half my crop. My great fear is that the government will come and take the rest of my land but this place is my life's work and Zimbabwe is my home. As long as I can recover my debts, I will stay," he said.

From The Daily Telegraph (UK), 12 August
Farm grab is noble effort, says Mugabe

Harare - President Mugabe's speech at the annual Heroes Day ceremony in Harare yesterday drew little applause when he vowed to press on with the "noble" seizure of white land and accused Britain of leading a "crusade to destroy Zimbabwe". The event is held to remember the fight to overthrow white rule. Mr Mugabe's audience was fewer than 2,000, including hundreds of soldiers, policemen and officials, one of the smallest gatherings ever seen at the most solemn event of the official calendar. Mr Mugabe, 76, claimed that Britain was trying to thwart the land seizure. He said: "We have seen countries lobbied by Britain ganging together against us. They have mobilised some of our own people, who are treacherously joining their crusade to destroy Zimbabwe." He repeated his promise to seize 3,000 white farms and said that his government would pursue "this noble effort to retrieve our heritage". He also challenged all Zimbabweans to "ask themselves whether they stand for the revolutionary values of the past".

From The Zimbabwe Independent, 12 August

MDC poll results challenge justified - Coltart

THE MDC says it has strong grounds for the legal challenges it is mounting in 39 constituencies contesting results of the June parliamentary poll. MDC secretary for legal affairs David Coltart said in an interview yesterday that his party's cases were well-founded. He said there was a solid premise for the opposition to win the cases. "I will comment in general terms because the cases are sub-judice. In almost every single application there is the issue of violence. That is the dominant ground," he said. There were three main grounds upon which the MDC was contesting the electoral outcomes, he said. These were intimidation, irregularities, and "treating" which means giving the electorate something to influence their voting behaviour. In terms of the Electoral Act, these - including bribery - were serious electoral crimes, Coltart said. They warrant nullification of a result and banning of the candidate from holding public office for five years, he said.

"According to the Electoral Act no person is allowed to intimidate voters. If you can prove that the candidate was involved in intimidation or his colleagues with his knowledge, consent or approval were involved in intimidation, the result can be nullified," he said. Coltart said in some applications the MDC had clear evidence that candidates were involved in intimidation while in others there was evidence that Zanu PF war veterans engaged in acts of violence. "What we are also saying is that the candidates' failure to speak out or stop violence amounted to approval of the actions of their subordinates and supporters," he noted. Electoral fraud, vote-rigging, moving people across constituencies to vote, allowing people to vote twice, displacement of voters, stopping people from voting, and miscounting were some of the issues raised.

Next week there will be a recount of the votes in Buhera North constituency where MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai lost to Zanu PF's Kenneth Manyonda. Tsvangirai polled 10 360 votes against Manyonda's 12 850. It is understood that the recount will be done on Tuesday. There will be 10 MDC witnesses and a similar number from Zanu PF. The MDC refused to have the original counters involved because its electoral agents were barred from witnessing the exercise. "There were many irregularities. In some cases people were turned away for a variety of reasons which include omissions from the voters' roll which had some pages missing and people were threatened outside polling stations," Coltart said. "In one particular constituency loans were advanced, people promised jobs and handouts given. That is called treating and it' a violation of the Electoral Act," he said. "Treating is slightly different from bribery because the latter involves paying people to actually vote for you while the former has something to do with influencing voters," he said.

The MDC did not use its legal team to deal with the cases, he said. "I'm a lawyer myself but I wasn't involved in the formulation of the cases. We deliberately went to professional lawyers, those who are not politicians, and asked them to investigate the cases and advise us on whether there were sufficient grounds to proceed," he said. Coltart denied the challenges were political manoeuvring. "We want to set a good precedent. If we keep quiet we will set a bad precedent because we will be condoning electoral crimes," he explained. "We will be giving an impression that people can engage in violence for electoral gain and get away with it. We will be perpetuating a culture of impunity," he said.

On allegations that the MDC was challenging the results because it was being funded by the Americans, Coltart said the MDC was taking legal action in accordance with the constitution and not because of how much money it has. "We have a huge shortfall for our cases. We need more money and we are currently trying to raise funds to cover the balance. The money that we raise is channelled to the law firms handling our cases and doesn't come to us," he said.

Zanu PF claims the MDC is challenging the results because it has funding from the Americans for that purpose. Its legal affairs secretary Eddison Zvobgo - whose constituency result was under challenge because of intimidation and violence - introduced a motion in parliament yesterday afternoon on the "Zimbabwe Democracy 2000 Bill" in part to deal with the issue of MDC court challenges. The Bill, which government sees as an imperialist plot against President Mugabe, was proving to be grist to the ruling party's political mill. It was now being used as a weapon to beat the opposition on "patriotic" grounds. Coltart said Zanu PF should not complain about foreign funding for political parties because it has for the past 20 years been receiving foreign money for its electoral campaigns. The Bill was expected to cause ructions in parliament.

From Pan African News Agency, 11 August

Handless Driver Stuns Zimbabwe Police At Roadblock

HONDE VALLEY - Zimbabwean police manning a roadblock in the eastern town of Honde Valley were stunned Friday when a man without both hands pulled up driving a truck. Abel Chikumbindi, a former pilot who lost both hands in a plane crash, controlled the brakes, accelerator and clutch while his unlicensed wife took charge of the steering wheel and gears. They had driven for more than 100 km when they met a police roadblock. Chikumbindi is a licensed driver while his wife holds a learner's licence. Unsure what charge to prefer, let alone against whom between the two, police cautioned the couple and allowed the unlicensed wife to "drive back carefully" while the husband supervised her from the passenger's seat.

From The Independent (UK), 12 August

Zimbabwean wildlife is being annihilated

Save Valley, Zimbabwe - As the pale pink haze of the dawn gently gives way to warming sunlight over the African savannah, Kenneth Manyangadze cuts the engine of his four-wheel drive. He might have expected to see an elephant amble into view from behind a baobab, or a giraffe nibbling a mapone tree. But straight ahead of us on the gravel road is a very different creature: a man in a Nike vest. This is no tourist who has come to feast his eyes on some of the most beautiful and endangered creatures on Earth but a hungry farm worker who will soon fill his belly with rhinoceros, zebra or, if he is particularly cunning, cheetah. What he does not eat, he will sell.

It is the height of the safari season in southern Africa and this year, the poachers - chief among them President Robert Mugabe's "war veterans" - outnumber the tourists. As Zimbabwe's political crisis reverberates deep in the magical wilderness of Save Valley Conservancy, the world's biggest private game reserve, thousands of rare animals - including the black rhinoceros and the African wild dog, as well as zebras, giraffes and leopards - are the latest victims of a land war which has become a free-for-all among impoverished people struggling to survive. Amid what he calls the "systematic annihilation'' of stocks by thousands of poachers, the estate manager, Dave Stockil, who works with his uncle, Clive, is in despair. "The scouts are patrolling the conservancy but they are powerless because the police will not intervene to remove the poachers," he says. Mr Stockil estimates that the 850,000-acre reserve has already lost thousands of antelope - killed by crude circular snares made with wire stolen from the perimeter fence.

His colleague, Mr Manyangadze, more accustomed to escorting tourists with clicking cameras, now finds he is waging a daily battle to protect the reserve's stocks. "The poachers have killed hundreds and hundreds of zebras, impala, kudu - anything they can get. They are selling the meat and they say they want the land." Yesterday, the conservancy's 150 game scouts had been deployed to track an injured black rhino and one of its 300 giraffes, spotted with a "bell-bottom leg" caused by a snare injury. One of the reserve's 90 wild dogs has already been found dead in a snare, as have three cheetahs, two leopards, dozens of zebras and up to four giraffes. A tusk from an elephant which had apparently been shot was found to have been removed and the reserve's conservator, Graham Connear, believes rhino-horn traders have arrived in the area.

Zimbabwe's political crisis - which began in February as part of President Mugabe's ruthless campaign to secure a parliamentary majority for his party in June's elections - has claimed more than 30 human lives. Now, with his near-bankrupt government desperately pushing through an "accelerated resettlement programme", thousands are taking advantage of continuing confusion over land ownership in rural areas. Mr Connear estimates that, at any one time, between 500 and 2,000 poachers from neighbouring lands are on the Save conservancy - a tract of land the size of Majorca - where two sections have recently been gazetted for government acquisition, even though they are officially listed as unsuitable for farming and are part of a designated reserve supported by the World Wide Fund For Nature. In one part of the reserve, people claiming to be veterans of the Seventies war against white rule have cleared a vast area of land to build huts. They survive by selling poached meat in neighbouring villages and have begun planting maize even though little can be cultivated in the drought and flood-prone landscape.

The VHF radio in Mr Connear's office crackled into life as a game scout reported the latest of the poaching incidents: two men had been apprehended in the Mukwazi area with a dead porcupine and a hyrax. They had been tracking a warthog using nine dogs and bows and arrows. The scouts had shot three of the dogs and would hold the poachers in a cell until the police arrived. Mr Connear telephoned Inspector Phiri. Yes, the policeman assured him, officers would collect the poachers the following day and charge them. "That does not happen every time," said Mr Connear. "Maybe things are improving."

The government has cause to act on the concerns of the wildlife lobby. Tourism -currently down to a trickle of regional visitors at reserves like Save and Victoria Falls - is a major foreign currency earner. In addition, Zimbabwe's European Union meat sales licence is in jeopardy because 14km of Save's perimeter fence has been destroyed by poachers, raising the possibility that foot-and-mouth disease in the reserve's 1,000-strong buffalo population could spread to cattle. Beef exports are worth 300m a year. Save Valley Conservancy was created less than a decade ago, when 25 cattle breeders, whose businesses were failing because of a severe drought, amalgamated their land. The government gave the project its blessing and the international consortium which created the conservancy created a stakeholder scheme called Campfire under which local residents would make money from the sale of excess stock. Today, Save (pronounced "Savay") has 800 elephants, 1,500 zebras, as well as lions, cheetahs, leopards and other predators, and 400 species of birds. But its greatest success has been in creating an environment in which more than 70 black rhinos - out of only 2,400 in the world - and 92 wild dogs (lycaon pictus) are thriving.

The smell of rotting meat pervades the forecourt outside Mr Stockil's office. By the door, he has two piles, each 8ft high, of circular wire snares found in the bush. Each of the death traps is no more complex than a coat hanger, with a loop at one end and enough wire at the other to tie around a tree. A few metres away, a pile of reeking skulls, bones and entrails are, he says, the remains of a giraffe and several antelope. "What we are seeing is a systematic annihilation of the wildlife," said Mr Stockil. "We do not know how the black rhino are doing because they are concentrated in an area where the war veterans have set up their main base camp and we are threatened if we try to go there. When the national parks staff came to assist us a month ago, the police refused to provide reinforcements because they said the poaching was a 'political' matter. "If the poaching stops now, it will take us six months to clear up all the snares. We will need a seven-ton truck to remove them because there are now thousands of them and they are killing animals far faster than the poachers can collect the meat. The animals can sense the danger and have fled from the southern part of Senuko. In some areas, you are lucky if you see a squirrel."

Most Zimbabweans agree land reform is necessary in a country where the majority of the 12 million population lives in crowded "communal areas" with poor access to water or fertilisers. More than 100,000 people live in such conditions around Save. By contrast, 4,500 white farmers control the best land and grow lucrative tobacco and vegetable crops using European technology. The site for Save Valley Conservancy was chosen specifically because its land is poor and Mr Manyangadze believes sheer greed is at work. Yet the residents of the communal land bordering the reserve are poor and hungry, like Debuley Muzeondakaya who was apprehended by scouts yesterday with a friend, two dogs and a dead cane rat. "We just came to fish," said the 18-year-old. He has a genuine need for food. Mr Manyangadze is unsympathetic. "They are thieves, they are not working for a living, and they are lying. We have a problem which is going to stay. People have discovered that there is meat here and hunting is more lucrative than farming maize. If the government gives people land but does not help them to farm it profitably, the poachers will just carry on," he said.

From Pan African News Agency, 11 August

Zimbabwean War Veteran Applies For Asylum In Britain

MASVINGO - A Zimbabwean independence war veteran, accusing white farmers and Britain of frustrating land reform in the country, on Friday filed an application with his lawyers to seek resettlement in the United Kingdom. Black Jesus, a former army captain, was the first former guerrilla to forcibly occupy a white-owned farm in Zimbabwe in 1997, for which he has been in and out of court and jail. He is currently on bail for disobeying a court order to move off a farm he has invaded in the south of the country. But the former fighter, whose real name is Francis Zimuto, said he now wanted to be resettled in Britain to escape persecution from whites in Zimbabwe. "I want the British to give me asylum in London because their kith and kin in Zimbabwe are barring me from the land of my birth which they have renamed Lothian Farm. I have instructed my lawyer, Mr Isaac Muzenda of Muzenda and Partners to apply for asylum for me, my wife and my three children," Zimuto said. "I am not asking for resettlement, but for settlement because I was never settled anyway," he added. "I am Black Jesus, the saviour of my land, but like the Biblical Jesus, I have no home of mine. I left this beautiful country for the liberation struggle at the age of 19 and at 50, I am still homeless."

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