| Grace Mugabe
Nymandhlovu, Dec. 26: Grace Mugabe, the wife of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, has finally chosen the farm she wants, and ordered the owners and workers off their land.
Grace Mugabe has chosen Iron Mask Estate, about 20 miles north-west of Harare, in the Mazowe Valley. The owners, John and Eva Matthews, both in their seventies, have moved off the farm, which was their home for 25 years.
Residents on the farm said Grace Mugabe visited the property and politely told those there that she was taking up residence and they should find alternative accommodation.
In other parts of Zimbabwe, there is a climate of fear and chaos, as police hunt down white farmers. In recent days, Robert Mugabe’s supporters have moved on to several farms, where the owners were in jail, and begun looting equipment and personal possessions. Police said they had no reports of looting.
Groups of farmers appearing in rural magistrates’ courts were given differing bail conditions, even after the attorney general’s office in Harare issued an instruction that all farmers should be freed on condition that they did not ever return to their homesteads.
Several magistrates ignored the instructions, particularly in the vast ranching lands of Matabeleland in southern Zimbabwe. Thirteen farmers, several of them pensioners, were granted bail in rural Nymandhlovu, about 40 miles north of Bulawayo, last week. But they then gathered at the local club to hear whether they could go home until their remand late next month.
Before their court hearing, the barefoot farmers, several exercising in a small enclosure outside their cells, were cracking jokes. David Olds, whose older brother and mother were murdered in the past two years by Robert Mugabe’s militia, stripped off his shirt and turned his face to the early morning sun to warm up after a cold night.
Police in Nymandhlovu refused to let the press or wives of the 13 men attend the hearing in the local magistrates’ court within the security fence at the police camp. Wives of several farmers said police were anxious in case hostile people, gathered across the road, stormed the proceedings.
A lawyer representing farmers at another rural magistrates’ court said his eight clients were granted bail and allowed to return home for a month to wind up their ranches.
This, the lawyer said, speaking on condition of anonymity, would allow them time to challenge the constitutionality of their evictions.
However in Bindura, about 45 miles north of Harare, lawyers said their clients’ bail conditions amounted to a conviction as they were given less than 24 hours to return home for the last time and pack up and go.
Wayne Bvudzijena, a police spokesman, said 193 people had been apprehended since the latest purge of white farmers began, but he could not say how many remained in prison last night.
One of those apparently detained was Elaine Graham, daughter of the British peer, Lord Forrester, who was allowed to breast-feed her month-old baby in the cells. Her husband, Ian, was also arrested. The Forrester family had large agricultural estates in Zimbabwe.
The country-wide swoop on whites has irreparably damaged Zimbabwe’s commercial agriculture at a time when half the population is on the brink of starvation.
Several hundred farmers, particularly in the provinces where Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party is strong, have fled their homes and businesses, most of them forever.
While an unknown number of white farmers have been forced to squat with friends and family, the couple allegedly evicted by Grace Mugabe, have been housed temporarily in an apartment in Harare, before they leave to join their daughter in Cape Town.
The Matthews’ eviction notice expired 10 days ago. A source said that Matthews, 78, and his wife, 74, were told to appeal against their eviction to the district administrator.
They discovered, however, that he had been part of Grace Mugabe’s entourage when she gave orders that workers and other residents on the property should pack their bags.
The farm, which is almost 2,500 acres, has only 400 arable acres, and has been idle for 18 months since Robert Mugabe’s militia arrived and prevented the Matthews from growing any crops.
Grace Mugabe is notorious for her profligate ways and a few years ago had a house built for her which was nicknamed Graceland.