White Zimbabwe farmers uncertain over fate

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- President Robert Mugabe told the nation Monday that the days of whites owning large farms in Zimbabwe were over, but "loyal" whites who cooperate would not be left landless.

The fate of hundreds of white farmers defying government orders to give up their land remained unclear after the anxiously awaited speech, which Mugabe delivered to commemorate the war that ended white rule two decades ago.

Against the backdrop of Heroes Acre, a burial shrine of nationalist politicians and guerrilla leaders, Mugabe said he would not tolerate opposition to his plans to redistribute white-owned farms to blacks.

He said black commercial farmers were expected to take allocated land by the end of August.

"That deadline stands. Everyone interested in farming should be on the land by the time the rains come" this year, Mugabe said in the speech.

But, he said, he would be willing to do business with white farmers who cooperate.

"All genuine and well-meaning white farmers who wish to pursue a farming career as loyal citizens of this country will have land to do so," Mugabe said.

Farmers puzzled

Farmers prevented from working their fields during land seizures over the past two years were puzzled by Mugabe's remarks, said David Hasluck, director of the Commercial Farmers Union, representing 4,000 white farmers.

"That loyal Zimbabweans can farm is entirely new to us. The majority of my members have been trying to farm as loyal Zimbabweans, but they have been stopped from doing so," he said.

Mugabe also said whites would not be allowed to stay on large properties, own more than one farm, or cling to ties with Britain, the former colonial power.

The standoff between the government and the farmers came as half Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people face a severe hunger crisis, according to the World Food Program. The agency blames the crisis on drought combined with the agricultural chaos caused by the seizures.

In Washington Monday, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker called the attempts to evict commercial farmers and thousands of farm workers "extremely reckless and reprehensible at a time when 6 million Zimbabweans are without adequate food supplies."

A deadline for nearly 3,000 white farmers to leave their land expired last week, but the government has taken no action and Mugabe stopped short of calling for action.

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