14 September 2009

Zimbabwe: Ben Freeth and Journalists Arrested in Chegutu

Chegutu farmer Ben Freeth, whose Mount Carmel farm has been under siege by land invaders for several months, was arrested on Monday morning, along with a group of international journalists.

Freeth and the crew from news service Al Jazeera were eventually released after being hauled into custody by police now stationed on the farm. The journalists were accompanying Freeth while he went to assess the damage of a recent fire that destroyed the homestead belonging to his father-in-law Mike Campbell, who he co-owns Mount Carmel with. The fire earlier this month came in the wake of a separate devastating fire that destroyed Freeth's home, the houses of some of his workers and an on-site linen factory.

But when Freeth arrived at the remains of Campbell's homestead, he and the journalists with him were immediately set upon by a group of policemen and apparent army officials wielding assault rifles. Freeth explained to SW Radio Africa shortly after being released from custody, that he is now no longer allowed on the Campbell's side of the farm, because of an 'investigation,' that police have said is 'private and confidential'.

The 'investigation' follows two explosions on the property last week, which have been widely speculated to be part of an attempt to charge Freeth and Campbell for weapons stockpiling. Freeth explained on Monday that he has witnesses who saw army personnel transporting explosives to the farm the day of the explosions. He said the whole situation is a deliberate attempt to get him and his family 'out of the way.'

The recent events on Mount Carmel occur as yet another farm has come under attack by a senior ZANU PF official. At Friedawil farm near Chinhoyi, Edward Mashiringwani, a deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, has moved onto the farm with about 15 guards who last week beat up one of the resident guards.

"They arrived mid morning Friday and began targeting our senior staff, issuing threats and chasing them away," said Louis Fick, who is struggling to maintain farming operations due to continuous harassment.Freeth and Mashiringwani's employees have also locked the gates leading to the onsite pig-sties and crocodile enclosures, and are refusing to allow food and water to be taken to the animals.

"We have about 1 000 pigs at this stage and ten sows are in maternity. There are also about 100 piglets, some just a few days old the rest under three weeks. It's essential for them to get food and water," Fick said. "Pigs in maternity need about 40 litres of water a day."

The situation is almost identical to April 2008 when Mashiringwani attempted to take over the farm, forcing Fick's workers to leave and refusing to allow his livestock to be fed and watered. At that point Fick had more than 4 000 pigs, 15 000 crocodiles and several hundred beef cattle. In desperation he called in the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who were inundated with distress calls, but when they tried to enter the farm, they were prevented from doing so by Mashiringwani's men. As a result 30 sows died due to dehydration and some became so crazed they ate their own piglets.

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