From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Tutu launches charity for displaced farmers, workers in Zimbabwe

Date 4 Jun 2002 09:21:04 -0400

Note #7184 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Tutu launches charity for displaced farmers, workers in Zimbabwe

Mugabe's land reform policies creating economic, humanitarian crisis 

by Ecumenical News International
HARARE - Desmond Tutu, the former South African Anglican archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and some sympathizers in the United Kingdom have formed a charity to aid commercial farmers in Zimbabwe affected by their government's controversial land reforms.  

The Zimbabwe Agricultural Welfare Trust has been established in Britain to "provide a focal point for international support" for farming families and other agricultural workers caught up in the haphazard and sometimes violent land redistribution program.  

The trust is expected to complement local efforts by churches and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Catholic Jesuit Society in looking after victims of the resettlement program.  
The charity's aim is to alleviate "the hardship and suffering" of the farming community in Zimbabwe, which has "been directly affected by the civil unrest," Lao Watson-Smith, the trust's administrator, told the Harare-based Independent newspaper last week.  

Tutu, who has condemned his own government for endorsing Zimbabwe's controversial presidential election in March, is the patron of the trust, which is chaired by James Maberly, a Kenyan-born humanitarian activist who spent his childhood in Zimbabwe.  

At least 11 farmers and seven workers have been killed, thousands assaulted and physically abused and nearly 1 million farm workers and their dependants displaced since February 2000, when members of President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) political party and veterans of the country's 1970s liberation war launched a series of farm invasions, according to the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe and Human Rights Forum.  

The marauders targeted properties belonging to white farmers whom they accused of sponsoring a campaign to reject a draft constitution drawn up by a commission handpicked by President Mugabe.  

The proposed constitution had a clause authorizing the government to compulsorily acquire, without compensation, any farm belonging to white large-scale farmers.  

The invasions intensified late last year in the run-up to the country's presidential election.  

The Commercial Farmers Union estimates that nearly half of Zimbabwe's 4000 white farmers have been driven off their properties since the onset of the invasions, which have left farm workers and their families stranded at roadsides. Farmers who attempted to assist them were attacked.  

Some farmers have since migrated to neighboring Mozambique.  

Nearly half of the affected workers are descendants of Mozambican, Malawian and Zambian migrant workers, according to estimates of the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe, a Zimbabwe welfare organization that looks after displaced farm workers and their families.  

The workers lost their citizenship last year, when the government passed a new citizenship law. As foreigners, they are not eligible for resettlement under the government's land reform program.  

Last week, riot police broke up a "refugee camp" outside Harare where farm workers from Marondera and Hwedza farming districts had erected temporary shelters with help from the Farm Community Development Trust, a welfare organization led by the Rev. Tim Neill, former vicar general of the Harare Anglican diocese.  

Watson-Smith, of the new Zimbabwe Agricultural Welfare Trust, said the land reforms had created a "horrific" humanitarian crisis.  

"Apart from the documented cases of torture on the farms, numerous laborers have been rendered homeless, jobless and without access to education and healthcare as the farms have been abandoned and businesses closed," he said.  

"We undertake to provide assistance with and promotion of physical and mental health, education, financial needs and general welfare of the agricultural community."  

Many NGOs in Zimbabwe and abroad have warned that the country is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis due to famine caused in part by the government-backed farm invasions which have sabotaged food production, undermining the once-thriving agricultural industry.  

Some 6 million people - more than half of the population - need food aid, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program said in a joint news release issued on May 29, and many more are expected to need aid by the end of the year.  

The Zimbabwe Agricultural Welfare Trust has been registered with the UK Charities Commission and is accountable to the Charities Commission of England and Wales. 
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