Swiss farmers face eviction in Zimbabwe

A Zimbabwean policeman orders squatters off a white-owned farm Keystone Archive

Swiss farmers in Zimbabwe are becoming increasingly uneasy as the government continues its policy of seizing land for redistribution to blacks.

This content was published on June 7, 2002 minutes

In the latest development in the bitter land dispute, which began two years ago, the government in Harare seized the title deeds to 53 Swiss-owned properties. According to the Swiss foreign ministry, 28 of those 53 farms are now occupied by veterans of Zimbabwe's war of independence.

"We have 13 Swiss nationals... affected by the land acquisition act," Swiss chargé d'affaires in Harare, Eduard Jaun, told swissinfo. "These properties are the so-called Section 8, which means that they have to vacate the farms within 90 days."

With tensions escalating and prospects bleak many Swiss landowners are now thinking of giving up their livelihoods and leaving the country.

The problems began when President Mugabe's government initiated wide-reaching reforms in July 2000 aimed at redistributing the 70 per cent of land owned by the white minority to landless blacks.

Many white farmers have died in violence associated with the handover of more than seven million hectares of land.

Mounting anxiety

In the first phase of the reform 20 Swiss-owned farms were designated for redistribution. Thanks to the intervention of the foreign ministry in Bern 12 of these were later granted a reprieve.

But since the presidential election in March saw Mugabe confirmed in his post a new wave of land expropriations has taken place, accompanied by an upsurge in violence.

"In his speeches President Robert Mugabe now talks of repossessing all farms," said Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman Muriel Berset Kohen. The anxiety among the white population was now tangible, she added, and was spreading all the time.

After the Dutch and the Italians, the Swiss own the largest area of cultivated land in Zimbabwe. The foreign ministry said it was giving assistance to 20 Swiss farmers, including the 13 directly affected by the expropriation of the 53 properties.

Strained relations

The ministry spokeswoman said diplomatic efforts were continuing on behalf of the farmers, but she said relations between Switzerland and Zimbabwe had become strained after March 19 when Switzerland followed the lead of the European Union in imposing sanctions on the government in Harare.

"Despite everything we will continue efforts to settle matters with Harare," Berset Kohen said.


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