Farmer attacked as Zimbabwe enforces eviction order

Sunday, August 18, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- A white farmer who obeyed the government's order to abandon his land was tracked down by police and ruling party militants Saturday, handcuffed and beaten, a farmers' group said.

Andrew Smith suffered head injuries and a broken leg in the attack at his Harare home, said Jenni Williams, a spokeswoman for the group Justice for Agriculture. After the attack, Smith was taken into police custody and detained near what was his farm, 20 miles northwest of Harare.

"We are attempting to secure his release from custody and into hospital," Williams said.

No other details about Smith were available.

Police spokesman Inspector Andrew Phiri said he had received no information about the attack.

Ruling party militants have attacked at least 12 farmers since the deadline for them to vacate their land expired Aug. 8. The government ordered about 2,900 whites to leave their farms, saying the land was to be redistributed to blacks, but several hundred farmers resisted the evictions.

Seventy-seven white farmers have been arrested over the past few days for flouting the eviction order, Zimbabwean police said Saturday. At least six farmers were freed on bail Friday, Phiri said.

He also told state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. that 55 farmers remain in custody. Farmers convicted of flouting the eviction orders face up to two years in jail and a fine.

Three detained farmers suffered from serious medical conditions and one was refused treatment, said relatives speaking on condition of anonymity.

Opposition lawmaker Trudy Stevenson accused police of trying to ensure farmers "spend the longest possible time in a stinking prison cell."

Agriculture Minister Joseph Made has suggested farmers stage-manage violent evictions to gain international sympathy.

It was not immediately known why Smith, who left his farm about a month ago, was targeted. Police and militants who went to the farm about 20 miles outside Harare looking for Smith instead found the caretaker and beat him up.

The attackers then drove to Harare, allegedly beat up Smith and brought him to a holding facility back near his farm.

The government has targeted 95 percent of properties owned by 4,000 white farmers for confiscation under its land reform program, saying the measure is necessary to correct the legacy of inequitable land ownership left by the colonial era.

However, critics believe the program is a bid by the increasingly unpopular government to cling to power amid more than two years of economic chaos and political violence.

Half of Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people face severe food shortages, a problem aid agencies blame on drought and the farm seizures.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: