Mugabe stands by eviction of white farmers

He says those who submit may keep some land

August 13, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe announced yesterday that he was standing by an eviction order that requires most of the country's white farmers to abandon their properties.

Mugabe said he was determined to redraw the colonial map that has left a tiny white minority with more than half of his country's fertile soil. Nearly 3,000 white farmers were ordered to leave their farms by midnight last Thursday, though many have defied the order. The president said yesterday that the land would be turned over to landless blacks by the end of the month.

But Mugabe also said cooperative farmers would be allowed to keep portions of their farms.

Mugabe, who has run Zimbabwe since white rule ended in 1980, assailed the farmers who have refused to leave. He said he would not reverse course despite pressure from Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler, as well as the United States and other Western countries.

"The game is up, and it is time for them to go," Mugabe said of the defiant farmers in a nationally televised speech. "We shall not budge; we shall not be deterred on this one question. The land is ours."

"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. "We shall always welcome and respect loyal citizens or residents who cooperate with government and respect our policies and decisions."

It was unclear yesterday how the authorities would respond to the president's speech.

Senior police officials say they are awaiting instructions from the government before forcing out white farmers. Many farmers have packed their bags, but farming officials say hundreds are defying the eviction order.

Colin Cloete, president of the Commercial Farmers Union, emphasized that his group supports land redistribution, though he said he hoped the government would allow white farmers to stay.

But Cloete, who represents most of the 3,500 white farmers in Zimbabwe, acknowledged that the future is uncertain. Government officials say farmers who refuse to leave their properties will face up to two years in prison or a hefty fine.

"This is our home and we want to stay if we can," Cloete said in a telephone interview. "But it's difficult to say where we're going."

Most Western officials and foreign donors agree that land should be redistributed in Zimbabwe, where thousands of blacks were forced to subsist on rocky, arid soil by British settlers who seized the best land during the colonial era.

But farmers and the donors have balked at participating in the land-redistribution program, which has been dogged by violence and cronyism since being revived two years ago in what is widely viewed as a tactic to bolster Mugabe's waning popularity.

Prominent politicians loyal to Mugabe control scores of fertile farms, while many poor blacks are still stranded on arid stretches without adequate water or sanitation. Government-backed militants have swept across the country, invading and occupying white-owned farms. In the course of these invasions, several white farmers and black farm workers have been killed, and thousands of black laborers have been evicted and left homeless.

The combination of land invasions and severe drought has been devastating.

The production of corn, the country's staple food, plunged by nearly 70 percent this year, the United Nations says. The production of winter wheat, which is harvested in October, will be down by as much as 40 percent. Nearly half of Zimbabwe's population is in need of emergency food aid.

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