Sunday, November 30, 2008

British woman, 74, beaten to death in ‘Wild West’ Zimbabwe

A HOUSEWIFE described as a “nice old lady” was beaten to death and her husband left in critical condition after an “extremely violent” attack highlighted Zimbabwe’s decline into lawlessness.

Mary Austen, a 74-year-old Briton, was murdered on her farm near Kwekwe, in the centre of the country, and her body discovered two days later. By then her husband, Neville a 77-year-old Zimbabwean, could not move or speak.

Brutal as it was, Austen’s death was a mere footnote in a country where lawlessness, hunger, disease and economic collapse define daily life. Police found furniture strewn all over the house after a struggle between the Austens and their attackers. She died from numerous head injuries.

A neighbour, who knew her well, described the attack as “really brutal - she was absolutely bludgeoned to death. She was a nice old lady who grew vegetables and maize for domestic consumption on a small farm.”

It has shocked the tiny band of white farmers who see the Austens as the latest victims of Robert Mugabe’s campaign to hand their farms to his cronies. The news came as the regime faced a severe rebuke from a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) tribunal, a body with powers greater than those of the local courts.

The tribunal ruled on Friday that the government had racially discriminated against Michael Campbell, a white Zimbabwean farmer, denied him legal redress and prevented him from defending his farm.

John Worsley-Worswick, of the Justice for Agriculture group, said that the killing of Austen, which was sparked by a dispute with domestic staff, was a sign of the hopelessness in rural areas.

“The extreme violence of the attack is something we wouldn’t have seen a few years ago. It’s a reflection of the desperation of ordinary Zimbabweans who can no longer secure food or basic medical attention,” he said.
Zimbabwe, say the farmers, is becoming a “Wild West” state in which hunger and ill-health are rife. In the current epidemic of cholera 9,000 cases have been reported by the United Nations.

Law enforcement is breaking down as police attempt to seize their share of the spoils. In Mutare police units seeking to control the diamond extraction business have fought gun battles, which have left more than a dozen dead in the past week.

Maize planting, which should have been completed by the middle of this month has barely started. Large parts of the country will remain unplanted, as small-scale farmers cannot afford seed or fertiliser. The Commercial Farmers’ Union expects the 2009 harvest to be the worst ever. Despite the exodus of refugees Zimbabwe needs at least 1m tons of maize to feed itself. Next year’s harvest will be no more than 300,000 tons.
International aid agencies expect to cover this deficit by feeding 5m Zimbabweans.

Some farmers have been unwilling to give in without a struggle and, like Campbell, are using the courts to fight back. Kim Birketoft, a Danish farmer, bought his farm in Nyahondo after independence and so cannot be considered a “colonialist” - the description Mugabe applies to all white farmers. The government gave Birketoft a letter confirming it had no interest in the land. His farm earned more than £650,000 a year, generating valuable foreign exchange. He employed 200-300 people.

Birketoft invested £260,000 to produce roses, beef and tobacco. His investment was protected by a bilateral treaty between Zimbabwe and Denmark. Birketoft believes that senior government officials planned the assault on his farm as a lever to remove the treaty protection that allows about 60 farmers, of German, Italian, Dutch and Danish nationality to continue operating. Having shredded its bilateral obligations with these countries Mugabe’s cronies will be able to seize farms and other assets belonging to European Union nationals that are protected by treaty agreements with EU governments.

In June Birketoft was presented with an ultimatum: he was given 90 days to leave as his farm had been offered to a retired army officer. He took legal action and last week the Zimbabwe supreme court ruled against him, but withheld its reasoning. The ruling was unusually swift and appears to have been rushed out to preempt the SADC verdict. Supreme court judges are all appointed by Mugabe.

Birketoft is likely to lose his livelihood and personal possessions. But his farm workers and their dependants face unemployment and eviction from their homes.

Research conducted by the Justice for Agriculture group showed that up to half the 1m farm workers and their dependants, who have been evicted since the beginning of violent land seizures in 2000, have since died.
Worsley-Worswick explained: “The Birketoft verdict was clearly politically motivated and came without any explanation.

“The regime will use that judgment to argue that it is not bound by the SADC tribunal’s ruling, as land ownership is a national security issue . . . this is about personal survival, keeping themselves out of prison, keeping their ill-gotten gains at all costs.”



This is horrible. I had no idea.

I will be writing another side to this and a lot of the white farmer storys.....maybe then people will understand things a bit better.....

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