Zimbabwe farmers worry about tobacco sales

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at bom4.vsnl.net.in
Fri Apr 28 06:30:03 PDT 2000

Wednesday 26 April 2000

Zimbabwe farmers worry about tobacco sales HARARE: More than 500 mourners gathered Tuesday at a memorial service for a white farmer killed by militant black squatters who were occupying his land. David Stevens, who was a strong supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, was beaten and shot in the head April 15 after being abducted from his farm 120 km east of Harare. Five other white farmers were abducted and beaten in the incident, which prompted about 80 families in the area to evacuate. Another white farmer with links to the MDC was killed in a separate incident, and two black MDC supporters were killed in a firebombing. Farmers are worried that the violence will delay Wednesday's scheduled opening of tobacco auctions and deter foreign buyers, dealing another blow to the country's suffering economy. Zimbabwe is the world's second biggest tobacco exporter after Brazil, and the product is the nation's No. 1 source of hard currency. But this year, the amount of tobacco delivered to the auction floors is down sharply. Work grading and packing tobacco has been disrupted by the violent occupations of white-owned farms, said officials of the Commercial Farmers Union, which represents many of Zimbabwe's white farmers. On Monday, tobacco worth an estimated $240,000 was destroyed when mobs torched a tobacco barn in eastern Zimbabwe, neighbors said. Pat Devenish, head of the tobacco auction floors, said just 6,000 bales of tobacco had been delivered by growers to the floors. In normal years, at least 20,000 bales would have been delivered on the weekend ahead of the start of the auctions. Though the auctions continue for several months, it is crucial that they start on time so farmers can get money to pay off loans they took out to buy seeds and fertilizers. The country, suffering from the worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, is also in desperate need of the foreign currency the auctions bring to th country. Elsewhere Monday, squatters illegally occupying white-owned farms assaulted and threatened black farm workers, farmers' union officials said. An unspecified number of workers were hospitalized, but the extent of their injuries was unknown. It was the latest violence in the illegal occupation of land on more than 1,000 white-owned farms. President Robert Mugabe has insisted that the occupations, which began in February, are a justified protest by land-hungry blacks against a few thousand whites who own about a third of the nation's productive land. Opponents of the government accuse Mugabe of using the violent occupations to shore up his flagging popularity ahead of nation elections expected to be called in May. Opponents also argue Mugabe wants to punish farmers for supporting the opposition. Police presence in recent days has calmed the situation on the farms, said Tim Henwood, head of the Commercial Farmers Union. Police earlier had been ordered by the government not to intervene. "They are taking an active role. There has been a definite change in the last 48 hours," Henwood said Monday. (AP) For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service
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