"Morgan Tsvangirai's government has betrayed us" – White farmers
CHEGUTU – Zimbabwean farmers have accused prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai's new unity government of betraying its principles by failing to stop a fresh wave of farm invasions.
More than 70 white-owned farms have been invaded since Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) established a coalition with Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF last month.
Affected farmers have been angered by the MDC’s silence on the latest invasions.
"No one from the unity government people has even mentioned us," said Brian Bronkhorst, a dairy farmer who inherited his property from his grandfather last year. "We’re backed up against a wall and there’s no one to intervene to help us."
John Worsley-Warwick, who runs a hotline for targeted farmers, said there has been a two-pronged assault on white farms. Magistrates have charged at least 50 with illegal occupation and another 77 have reported some form of invasion. A Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday endorsed the eviction orders, destroying the last vestiges of hope of legal relief for scores of landowners.
In a safehouse in Chegutu, once a prosperous market town named Hartley, Mr Bronkhurst and group of fellow displaced farmers spend their days discussing their losses and playing backyard cricket. The rolling fields around the town are flush with crops but the farmers are forced to loiter in T-shirts and shorts on a friend’s veranda.
Peter Etheredge was forced off his farm by thugs in the pay of the president of Zimbabwe’s senate, Edna Madzongwe.
He said his 6,000 ton orange harvest was contracted for sale to the Middle East. "I turn over at least $4 million (£2.74 million a year from that business, selling to a good market that wasn’t going to be affected by any downturn," he said. "It was a good crop too, full of export grade oranges and she’ll sell it on the local market for nothing. It’s a waste."
Intimidation tactics are widespread and the so-called war veterans leader, Joseph Chinotimba, who spearheaded the most bloody land invasions since 2000, has re-emerged. "Chinotimba has brought down people to intimidate our labour," said Mr Etheredge. "It’s not pleasant when people you’ve known for 16 years turn on you and claim you haven’t paid them.
"When I tried to get rid of his men, one turned on me and said ‘we know you and where you live, we will kill you."
Hours later Mr Etheridge and his brother James fled under the cover of darkness.
Tapiwa Mashakada, the MDC’s deputy secretary general, conceded the party had been unable to use its position to stop a "last minute" rush by Zanu-PF to seize more land. "These are out of sync with the reality," he said. "It will take some time but I sure we can restore confidence."
Ousted farmers can’t believe they have lost their land just as the country is at a turning point. Rob Taylor has had to camp with a wardrobe and other possessions in the car park of his 12-year old daughter’s school before threats forced them into hiding. He said: "I’ve got nothing, I’m bust. I was 26 when this started nine years ago, maybe I should have gone somewhere new but I can’t leave now, it’s too close to the end.
"Agriculture is the engine of the Zimbabwean economy. The economy needs a boost to get started but you can’t kickstart it without the engine."
President Mugabe, the champion of land seizure has denounced the invaders as "enemies" of Zimbabwe but his words had not been backed by action. The 85-year old made no effort to reign in the officials, judges, policemen and family members.
With harvests looming in the southern hemisphere, farmers believe high ranking Zanu-PF figures are grabbing lucrative assets before the new government establishes its authority.
Mr Taylor’s former employees face a bleak future. "Since the white man was chased away we have never had a proper meal," Margaret Ngoma said.
Foreign officials said the government is "at war" over the invasions. The status of farms is crucial to Zimbabwe’s efforts to attract international aid to revive its bankrupt government.
Western diplomats said the Zanu-PF Lands Minister Herbert Murerwa had conceded for the first time that Zimbabwe would compensate dozens of farmers who had lost property protected by bilateral investment treaties.
But the concession would not affect the claims of thousands of British, Commonwealth and white Zimbabwean farmers who had forfeited property since the land invasions began. The Telegraph (UK)