PRESIDENT Robert Mugabeâ€™s controversial land reform programme took a new twist on Wednesday when a court ordered the eviction of a man who is not a farmer.
Ian Campbell-Morrison (46) lives in the Vumba Mountains in eastern Zimbabwe, next to a tourist hotel where he is the green keeper for its golf course.
He and his wife live in a cottage on a plot not much bigger than a suburban garden, where she tends flowers.
The Campbell-Morrisons used to farm tobacco and coffee there, but the government seized their land and the farm house and gave it to a governmentÂ official, leaving the couple their cottage and the garden around it, said Hendrik Olivier, director of the Commercial Farmersâ€™ Union, made up mostly of Zimbabweâ€™s remaining 350 white farmers.
A magistrate in the nearby city of Mutare nevertheless sentencedÂ Campbell-Morrison to a fine of US$800 for â€œillegally occupying stateÂ landâ€ and ordered the couple to be off the property by tomorrow (Saturday).
The Campbell-Morrisons are one of 140 white farming families facing evictionÂ from their land in the latest tactic in Mugabeâ€™s violent, lawless campaign to force white landowners â€” numbering about 5 000 when it startedÂ in 2000 â€” off their farms.
The action is in the name of a redistribution of white land to blacks, but which has instead made a million former farm workers homeless and set off the collapse the once-prosperous countryâ€™s economy into famine and ruin.
Mugabe has declared all white-owned farmland to be state property and banned farmers from taking the government to court.
The evictions and violence have continued despite the establishment in February of a power-sharing government between Mugabe and former pro-democracy opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, with an agreement toÂ restore the rule of law and to â€œensure security of tenure to all land holdersâ€. Tsvangirai, now prime minister, began by promising to end the lawlessness,Â promising that â€œno crime (by invaders) will go unpunished,â€ but police â€” under the control of staunchly pro-Mugabe security chiefs â€” continued to refuse to act against the mostly well-heeled Mugabe loyalistsÂ grabbing productive farms and selling their crops.
Western governments have refused to provide finance for the recovery of the countryâ€™s economy from world-record inflation and decimation of productionÂ under Mugabe, until there are â€œclear signs of reformâ€ in the re-establishment of the rule of law. The restoration of peace and security on the farms is cited as a key condition.
But there was shock this week when Tsvangirai referred in an interview to â€œisolated incidents of so-called farm invasionsâ€ that had â€œbeen blown out of proportionâ€.
Said a Western diplomat: â€œHeâ€™s talking like Mugabe now.â€
Throughout Tuesday night on Mount Carmel farm in the Chegutu district, farmer Ben Freeth and his family were allegedly terrorised by a mob of invaders who rolled blazing tyres at their thatch-roofed homestead.
At the weekend an 80-year-old woman was assaulted by police removing her son from his farm. On Friday, another farmer was beaten up by a MugabeÂ supporters trying to force him to leave.
â€œThere has been absolutely no resolution or even recognition that there is even a problem,â€ said CFU president Trevor Gifford, who is trying to stop a government official cutting down what is left of his timber plantation and selling it to the government of neighbouring Zambia for telephone poles.Â Gifford is due to appear in court on Friday for â€œillegally occupying state landâ€.
â€œThis is happening in a country that has become the worldâ€™s most dependent on donors for food,â€ he said. â€œUntil this government respects the rights ofÂ its own citizens and investment agreements, no-one will look at this country.â€ â€” www.monstersandcritics.