Farm workers force war vets to abandon farm invasion

Judges ignore SADC ruling on eviction of farmers

NORTON - Farm workers and war vets observed an uneasy truce on Thursday in northern Zimbabwe after workers blocked an attempt to storm and occupy a white-owned homestead in the heart of the nation's grain belt.

The workers, aiming to protect their livelihoods, formed a cordon and forced the would-be squatters to gather reinforcements from a nearby shanty settlement.
But workers from neighbouring farms joined the cordon, swelling its strength to about 150 men, and told leaders of the outnumbered war vets and squatters – who were armed with axes, spears and clubs – to advance no further, local security officials said.

Thursday’s standoff, one of several similar confrontations around the country, marked a potentially explosive escalation in the political crisis that began when squatters and ruling party thugs, many of them masquerading as veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war, started occupying the remaining 400 white-owned farms soon after the signing of the September 15 power-sharing deal.

The standoff near Norton, 40 km from Harare, ended with the withdrawal of the would-be squatters by nightfall, a move negotiated by police, said a family spokesman.

The white farmer declined to be named fearing further reprisals. "The workers wanted to chase them away, and the police realized it could become a fight," the spokesman said.

He said the renewed farm unrest was being fuelled by statements from the judiciary cheer-leading squatters to evict the remaining white farmers. At the official opening of the 2009 legal year, High Court judges contemptuously gave the SADC the middle finger, rubbishing a ruling that declared that the continued eviction of white farmers was illegal and breached SADC legal instruments.

Zimbabwe’s newly appointed Attorney General, Johannes Tomana, said he would proceed to prosecute all commercial white farmers who have acted in breach of government’s order to vacate gazetted land.

This flies in the face of the SADC Tribunal ruling in November that ruled that the 75 white farmers challenging their eviction stay on their farms and continue producing food for the starving nation. The Norton farmer is among the 75.

"We wish to advise that the policy position taken by the government pursuant to the judgement handed down by the SADC Tribunal on the 28th of November, 2008, is that of prosecutions of defaulting farmers under the provisions of the Gazetted Lands (Consequential Provisions) Act, and should now be resumed," Tomana said in a letter to Gollop and Blank law firm, which is representing the white farmers.

The renewed farm evictions also come amid warlike demagoguery by regime officials meant to frighten the remaining white farmers.

"There is nothing special about the 75 farmers and we will take more farms," Didymus Mutasa, the Land Reform minister has said. Government consistently repeats its mantra that: "It’s not discrimination against the farmers, but it’s correcting land imbalances, – despite the fact that the vast majority of lucrative commercial farms have been given to top civil service, military and judiciary officials, and other Mugabe gravy train hangers on.

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