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Black Zimbabweans Caught In International Crossfire of Government Land Distribution
by Mkepile Mabuse

Harare, Zimbabwe - A desperate, white Zimbabwean farmer fighting to hold onto his land -- a year after the country's political rivals pledged to govern jointly -- fears he will eventually lose to politics and violence.

The power-sharing agreement included an undertaking by both parties to ensure property rights of the remaining hundreds are upheld but farm attacks and invasions continue unabated in Zimbabwe.

The redistribution policy enacted in 2000 by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, came after more than 30 years of promises – primarily by Britain and the U.S. -- to aid in the redistribution of native lands to black Zimbabweans went unattended. The land seizures helped solidify Mugabe as a populist leader, but lead to Western economic retribution that has nearly bankrupted the nation and virtually killed off its farming sector. Prior to Mugabe’s redistribution, a few thousand white commercial farmers owned 70 percent of the arable land in the nation.

Charles Lock is one of an estimated 400 white farmers who have remained in the country despite President Mugabe's policy of redistributing white-owned farms to landless black citizens.

"Why do they want to remove me when I've complied with everything they want? What more do they want other than for me to pack my bags and leave and if that's the case, then admit that that is the policy. Pass a law: no whites are allowed to farm. Then it makes it clear," Lock said.

"When the land reform program began, we decided we were not going to have a confrontational attitude; that we would actually go along with this program because it was the only way that this whole thing would be sorted out. So I voluntarily gave away my own farm and moved onto my father-in-law's farm," Lock said.

That was in 2002. A year later the government came knocking on his door again, he said, demanding more land.

Lock told CNN he eventually gave up 70 percent of his father-in-law's farm, which he then owned. Now an army general is demanding Lock's remaining 30 percent.

When Zimbabwe's new unity government was formed -- with Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change -- in February this year, the general allegedly posted soldiers on Lock's farm. The farmer said he stopped farming and trade at gun point.

When CNN visited Lock's farm this month, workers were standing idle. Maize and tobacco, which Lock said is worth more than U.S. $1 million, lay in storage.

"They've switched off our irrigation system, taken out keys and stop our trucks if we want to deliver maize," he told CNN.

With the formation of a unity government farmers were hoping for some protection but Lock said: "Nothing is happening here. There is no land audit happening, no one comes out here to check, to see. We are just left vulnerable."

On another farm, Ben Freeth's fight for his land has just escalated to another level.

Freeth has been repeatedly beaten, arrested and harassed. Now his farmhouse and that of his father-in-law have been gutted by a mysterious fire.

Freeth and his father-in-law Mike Campbell are among a group of Zimbabwean farmers who won the right to remain on their land at a southern African tribunal.

But Mugabe has declared the ruling null and void and pulled out of the tribunal. Farmers cannot contest land issues in Zimbabwe and approaching international courts has thus far not worked either.

When CNN interviewed Mugabe's minister of state, Didymas Mutasa, he blamed the farmers for the violence, saying landless black people are getting frustrated with their refusal to relinquish their land.

"Human rights are beginning to be seen now because they benefit the whites, and when they were affecting blacks badly as they did the likes of us, it didn't matter and nobody raised anything about those human rights.

"And sometimes we say, good heavens, if that is the kind of human rights you are talking about, you better keep them away from us; we don't want to see them," he said.

Lock says the situation has not gotten better under the unity government.
"When ZANU-PF was in power, you had hawks and doves in government and the doves were approachable and often helped us,” Lock said. “But now that these positions are being shared with Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC, Mr. Mugabe has only appointed hawks to his cabinet who insist on continuing the land reform program. And when it comes to the MDC, the land issue seems to be a hot potato they do not want to touch. I have asked Mr. Tsvangirai to intervene but nothing is happening."

Prime Minister Tsvangirai refuted that. "That is not true," he said. "We initiated to find out who is being affected, the few remaining white farmers. Let's be frank here, we are talking of farmers as being white, but to me any destruction of farm production affects the whole viability of agriculture. There should be no disruption of any farm activity."




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