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Mugabe Takes Hard Line on Defiant White Farmers

By Cris Chinaka HARARE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe dashed the hopes of thousands of white farmers Monday, saying those targetted by his land reform must surrender their property without delay to landless blacks.

Reuters Photo


Slideshow: Zimbabwe

Mugabe Stands By August Land-Handover Deadline

(Reuters Video)

Mugabe: Some Whites Can Keep Land

(AP Video)

"We set ourselves an August deadline for the redistribution of land and that deadline stands," Mugabe said in a televised address during a funeral for a former finance minister.

Mugabe's government had ordered 2,900 of the remaining 4,500 white commercial farmers to quit their land without compensation by midnight last Thursday, August 8. The reforms have caused upheavals at a time when Zimbabwe faces food shortages.

"We, the principled people of Zimbabwe. We, the true owners of this land, shall not budge. We shall not be deterred on this one vital issue, the land," Mugabe told about 20,000 supporters.

He did not say what would happen to the farmers defying the August deadline. Farming sources estimate about 60 percent of farmers targetted in the action are defying eviction orders and hoping for a reprieve from the country's courts or from Mugabe.

Jenni Williams, spokeswoman for the Justice for Agriculture pressure group, told Reuters she was disappointed that Mugabe had offered nothing that would help avert a threatened famine.

"The reprieve expected from the speech did not show. It is unfortunate that, coming from Mugabe's side, there has been no acceptance of responsibility (for the food crisis)," she said.

"We as farmers accept that land must be redistributed, but we do feel our political leaders must understand that in land reform you can't compromise production or you will have starving Zimbabweans," she said.

Aid agencies predict that up to 13 million people in six southern African countries face starvation by February as a result of drought and political mismanagement. About half of them are in Zimbabwe.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said in a statement Mugabe's land policy had cost 70,000 black farmworkers their jobs and had affected 250,000 dependants.

"Mugabe's fast-track land resettlement program is not only defined by its illegality and its violence, but also by its crude short-sightedness and political opportunism," it said.

Colin Cloete, president of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), said it appeared Mugabe had toned down his rhetoric, but that his message on redistribution had remained consistent.

"It could have been worse than that," he told Reuters.


Cloete and other farm sources said they were confused by Mugabe's comment that no farmer would be left landless, adding that many had been ordered to surrender all their land.

Mugabe said he was pursuing a "one farmer, one farm policy" with a place for "well-meaning white farmers who wish to pursue a farming career as loyal citizens of this country."

Vernon Nicolle, one of the farmers resisting eviction, told Reuters Mugabe had not sent a clear message to farmers or to the self-styled war veterans waiting to take over abandoned farms.

"I know of a big percentage of farmers who have left their farms, who have been forced to evacuate or who have been physically pushed off their farms, who had only one farm."

Mugabe did not say what his government would do about the farmers defying last week's deadline, but he warned against a white resistance movement.

In an apparent reference to court challenges and possibly to defiant white farmers, Mugabe added: "We brook no impediment and we will certainly suffer no avoidable delays."

Eleven white farmers have been killed since the land reform program began with violent invasions by war veterans early in 2000, some in possible robberies fueled by a climate of lawlessness and others in direct clashes with militants.

Hundreds of black farm workers have been beaten and an unknown number have died at the hands of war veterans, many of them too young to have fought for the liberation of the former Rhodesia in the 1970s, enforcing the land redistribution.

Mugabe, who led the country to independence from Britain in 1980, paid tribute to the war veterans and said even those too young to have fought with his guerrilla forces were entitled to be called war veterans. (Harare newsroom +2634-369110)



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