Another house burned down as campaign against farmers heats up

house_on_fireThe renewed offensive to drive the remaining commercial farmers off their land stepped up a level this week, with yet another farm house on a besieged farm in Chegutu being burned to the ground on Wednesday morning.

The home of Mike Campbell on Mount Carmel farm, burned to ashes on Wednesday, mere days after a fire wiped out his son-in-law, Ben Freeths home, also situated on the farm. The fire on Sunday, which was widely suspected to be the result of an arson attack, also consumed the farms onsite linen factory and the homes of many of the farms workers.

Wednesdays fire has confirmed for many that the two separate incidents are part of a deliberate drive to force the Campbell and Freeth families from the farm. Justice for Agricultures (JAG) John Worsley-Worswick on Wednesday said the fires are definitely arson related, explaining that the attacks come against the backdrop of ongoing harassment, intimidation and violence at the hands of land invaders, working for corrupt ministers and ZANU PF loyalists. The invaders at Mount Carmel have openly declared they are working for ZANU PF top official Nathan Shamuyarira, who has actively been trying to pry the farm out of Campbells and Freeths hands since last year.

Theyve been unable to remove the Campbells or the Freeths through judicious terms, so now they are taking the law into their own hands and literally burning them out, Worsley-Worswick said.

The day before the fire that consumed Freeths home, an elderly farmers wife was found murdered in her home in Kadoma. 75-year-old Sophie Hart was discovered bound and strangled, although nothing appeared to have been stolen from the house. Worsley-Worswick explained that Harts son has been actively involved in fighting the government for compensation for stolen farms, and said the death is likely linked to the campaign to intimidate farmers and drive them off their land. Harts death meanwhile brings to three, the number of murders of elderly farmers that have taken place, related or not, since the renewed offensive against the farming community began in earnest this year.

The siege on Mount Carmel farm has previously seen farm invaders threatening to burn down Freeths home, and the farms workers too have faced severe intimidation and in many cases, incidents of violence. Earlier this year, several workers were beaten and arrested after trying to protect the land against invaders. They have since faced a worsening crisis, with the invaders completely taking over the farm. One of the workers told SW Radio Africas Hidden Story programme on Wednesday that the roughly 200 staff on the farm fear for their lives, explaining they are absolutely destitute. He explained there is no food, water or even electricity as a result of the invaders looting the property.

JAGs Worsley-Worswick said the plight of farm workers across the country is a desperate one, and said it is a tragedy that thousands more people have been left unemployed and desperate. Zimbabwe meanwhile was earlier this year classed as the most food aid-dependent country in the world, but regardless of that there has been no effort to ensure that productive farms, the source of Zimbabwes food, are protected against invasions.

The fire on the Campbell property came as it emerged this week that the government has pulled out of the SADC Tribunal, the human rights court governing the Southern African region. The same court ruled in favour of Campbell, Freeth and at least 70 other farmers who challenged the government over land reform last year. The Tribunal ruled the campaign was discriminatory, and ordered the government not only to compensate farmers, but also to protect their land from further forced takeovers. The ruling was openly flouted, with Robert Mugabe declaring it null and void. As a result, the Tribunal earlier this year ruled the government in contempt, and referred the matter to next weeks SADC Summit of government leaders in the DRC.

But it emerged in a state media report that Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has declared the Tribunal is unlawful, and that the Government would not be bound to any decisions already made or any future rulings. The move means that the government has now closed off all possible legal avenues for Zimbabwes beleaguered commercial farmers to seek redress.

As we are unaware of any other basis upon which the Tribunal can exercise jurisdiction over Zimbabwe, we hereby advise that, henceforth, we will not appear before the Tribunal and neither will we respond to any action or suit instituted or be pending against the Republic of Zimbabwe before the Tribunal, Chinamasa reportedly wrote in a letter sent to the registrar of the Tribunal last month.

JAGs Worsley-Worswick said the move is a last ditch attempt by the government, still under the tight control of Mugabe, to avoid being sanctioned by the SADC court. He explained that Zimbabwe, as a signatory to the SADC protocol, is bound to respect the rulings of the court, adding that the government has, until now, abided by the court structures.

They have been part of the farmers case from the beginning and they have even put forward a Zimbabwean judge to be part of the Tribunal, Worsley-Worswick said. Pulling out at this late stage is farcical.

The MDC meanwhile, whose decision to join a government run by ZANU PF was heralded as the coming of change for Zimbabwe, has been conspicuous by their deafening silence over the land attacks. Regardless of the violence and even the forced destitution of hundreds of workers as a result of the fires in Chegutu, there is yet to be a single statement on this latest issue from the party. The government too has refused to act on the farm attacks, and Worsley-Worswick said the future of Zimbabwean agriculture is becoming more and more bleak with every day of non-action and silence by the government.

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