ident Robert Mugabe’s land-seizure laws said they expected imminent arrest, despite the threat of a two-year prison sentence for remaining in their homes.
Human rights groups said one white farmer was beaten by squatters on his farm in central Zimbabwe on Monday morning, but did not release further details.
In the absence of Mugabe, who retuned from New York from the UN General Assembly Monday, government officials have been giving mixed messages on what action the farmers can expect.
Joseph Msika, the vice-president, summoned Defence Forces commander Constantine Chiwenga last week to implore him to halt any further farm seizures especially by troops.
Special Affairs minister responsible for Land Reform Didymus Mutasa openly ignored Msika by insisting that white farmers who have been ordered to leave should vacate the farms or risk arrest
”All those defying the orders will be arrested and dealt with by police,” Mutasa said Monday. “It is fairly straightforward as far as I am concerned.”
The orders followed legislation that came into force through a Constitutional Amendment to speed up the land-grabbing program. A 45-day notice to stop work was given to 220 of the 400 or so remaining farmers out of Zimbabwe’s formerly 4,500 white farmers. They were given another 45 days to leave their land, which expired on October 1.
Hundreds of farmers defied the first deadline by continuing to farm, but 50 have been summoned to the courts.
The High Court reserved judgement last week in a lengthy court battle involving Charles Lock, a white farmer in Headlands, who is arguing that a senior army official, Brigadier General Mujaji, could not seize his farm because he had already ceded two thirds of his property for resettlement. He has five court orders stating he should stay. But still he has been told to leave with virtually nothing.
Justice Charles Hungwe is set to hand down judgement in the matter this week.
Justice for Agriculture officials said this week that some farmers had already been evicted by government thugs, despite being protected by law.
“All we’re trying to do is to establish our rights within the law. If the government is not prepared to respect those rights, it will only highlight its illegality,” said a JAG spokesman.
Beatrice Mtetwa, president of the Zimbabwe Bar Association, said she doubted whether the rule of law would prevail on the farmers’ side.
According to one independent estimate, Zimbabwean and other banks and financial institutions stand to lose nearly £2bn in loans to evicted farmers.
Mugabe says his land reform programme is a necessary righting of historical wrongs, whereby British colonisers seized 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s most productive land. But with the president’s cronies primarily standing to gain from the programme, Zimbabwe’s opposition politicians, and many poor Zimbabweans, describe it as theft.
Agricultural output has been halved by the seven-year crisis, compounding the effects of a recent drought in the south.
By the end of the year, the UN world food programme predicts that more than six million Zimbabweans will be on food aid.
“Land reform is important, but is secondary to feeding the country,” said Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
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