Cablegate: Commercial Farms: Situation Report

Published: Wed 21 Aug 2002 11:40 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A. A. HARARE 1827
B. B. HARARE 1830
C. C. HARARE 1871
D. D. HARARE 1882
1. Summary: Arrests of farmers by the Zimbabwean authorities
continue, with no break in the official party rationale and
no indication of respite. Most farmers are being released on
bail an receiving future court dates. There is little
consistency throughout the various regions as to the
conditions attached to the farmers' release, with some being
ordered to vacate the property immediately, some being given
2-3 days, and some being given to the end of August. End
2. According to reports published by the group Justice for
Agriculture (JAG), over 196 identified farmers had been
arrested as of August 20. In several cases, contrary to
published reports of farmers "going into hiding" and forcing
the police to hunt them down, farmers whose land is not even
subject to the final Section 8 acquisition orders have
voluntarily presented themselves at police stations in
solidarity with their colleagues and in order to clarify
their legal status.
3. In another break with reality, the government-controlled
Herald has reported that one farmer attempted to "kill cops"
in a plot which backfired. According to a farming source in
the area, however, the farmer -- Ian Barker -- was working in
his fields when he received reports that his elderly mother
was being arrested and hauled off from his homestead in a
police vehicle. Barker reportedly jumped into his own
vehicle and went speeding off to try and reason with the
arresting authorities. When Barker rounded a blind curve and
came upon the police convoy, which was driving along the
gravel road, he slammed on his brakes, causing his vehicle to
lock up and skid to a halt about one meter from the police
vehicle. Due to the presence of the District Administrator
and two war vets in the convoy, the police immediately
arrested Barker on charges of four counts of attempted
murder, since four police officers were riding in the other
vehicle. As an indication of the "seriousness" of this
offense, Barker was subsequently released on Zim $5000 bail
(about US $7.25 at parallel market rates), the same bail
granted to other farmers in the area.
4. The majority of farmers have been released on bail with
the terms of their release varying according to the region in
which they live. Farmers in some regions, including
Masvingo, were released on Zim $5000 bail and given 2-3 days
to leave their property. Farmers in other regions, including
Mashonaland Central, were released on Zim $5000 bail and
given until August 30 to vacate their farms. Farmers in yet
other regions, including Mashonaland Central, were released
on Zim $10,000 bail and given 24 hours to vacate their
properties. Some farmers were prohibited from returning to
their farms altogether, others were allowed to visit their
farms only with a police escort, and still others were
allowed to attend to their farming chores during the day but
were not allowed to spend the night in their homes. Some
farmers had all charges dropped because of technicalities
which rendered their Section 8 orders invalid or because the
90-day period in which they must vacate their properties had
not yet expired. Several farmers, including a 67-year-old
farmer in ill health who was assaulted while in police
custody, have been denied bail and will be kept in custody
until their respective hearing dates. As expected, the
conditions vary according to the political personalities in
control of the various provinces.
5. In one region, a farming contact reports that all farmers
arrested are required to appear before a "board" consisting
of two police Internal Security personnel, two Central
Intelligence Organization (CIO) personnel, and two war vets.
The farmers have reportedly all been asked how much they are
prepared to downsize their current operations. In one case,
a farmer who has only received a Section 5, or preliminary
notice of acquisition, has been ordered to turn over his
title deed and one-half of his 800 hectare operation, after
which he would receive some as-yet undetermined document
confirming his ownership of the remaining portion. The
farming contact reports that the authorities seem to be
"shaking the tree to see what will fall."
6. Comment: In a not-too-surprising development, Colin
Cloete, president of the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), was
also arrested. Several farming contacts have reported that
the CFU is no longer perceived by its constituents as a
viable advocacy group, but that it has now taken on the role
of simply another "professional organization." The arrest of
Cloete is indicative of the disregard in which the group is
held by the GOZ, and also seems to close the door on any
attempt to revive the moribund Zimbabwe Joint Resettlement
Initiative (ZJRI), in which the CFU attempted to work with
the GOZ in identifying and ceding commercial farmland for
resettlement. The GOZ's actions seem to confirm the JAG's
assertions that you cannot negotiate with the government, and
that the CFU's attempts to extricate its members from this
situation via dialogue were doomed to failure. We expect
these arrests to continue, but the next major challenge
concerns how the courts deal with the actual merits of each
case. Some farmers whose Section 8 notices have been
overturned on technicalities expect an immediate re-issue of
the notices with scrupulous attention to the letter of the
law. Of course, in the end, the Mugabe government may not
even acknowledge the magistrates' actions, and ultimately it
can simply ignore any judicial decisions with which it does
not agree, as it has done in the past. End comment.
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