18 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Banket Farmer Lucky to Be Alive After 'Assassination Attempt'

A farmer in Mashonaland West insists he escaped a deliberate 'hit' on his life, after he was shot in the face on his property on Monday night.

Piet Zwanikken, a Dutch national who has been farming on his Riverhead farm for 15 years, is now recovering in hospital with a serious face wound. The bullet, shot at close range, went through his nose and grazed his cheek. On Tuesday morning he was in surgery where doctors worked on rebuilding his nose.

He spoke to SW Radio Africa from his hospital bed on Tuesday and said he is lucky to be alive.

"I believe this was an assassination attempt. A deliberate hit. It is all an attempt to force me off my farm," Zwanikken said.

Zwanikken has faced worsening intimidation and threats in recent months, after the Lands Ministry handed a suspected CIO agent an offer letter for Riverhead farm in January. This is despite the fact that the property is meant to be protected by a bilateral investment protection agreement (BIPPA), between Zimbabwe and the Netherlands.

On several occasions the suspected CIO agent, Charles Mupanduki, has attempted to take over the farm and land invaders working for him succeeded for a few days in August. During that time Zwanikken lost thousands of dollars worth of farming equipment and eventually had to get a court order to force the invaders off his property.

He explained that on Monday night three land invaders who work for Mupanduki, called him to his gate and said his tobacco stocks were being stolen. He told SW Radio Africa that he did not believe them, so he thanked them and turned back to his house.

"Little did I know that one of them, named Peter Macheka, had a gun behind his back. As I was turning to go I just saw out the corner of my eye this bright flash. This guy had shot at close range and next thing I knew I was shot. I was with my son and we both ran back to the house. I am just so lucky that bullet didn't kill me," Zwanikken said.

The shooting comes as information had been received of a detailed 'hit list' supplied to the CIO, which contains the names of people who could 'make an impact.' John Worsley-Worswick from Justice for Agriculture said such a 'hit-list' has likely been made ahead of elections, to silence anyone that could 'rock the boat' ahead of the poll.

"Fortunately this shooting on Monday has not resulted in another murder. This is politically motivated though and driven by chefs, so we are very sad and alarmed, but not terribly surprised. Farmers are always targeted ahead of elections," Worsley-Worswick said.

It is suspected that Zwanikken might have been deliberately targeted because he is a Dutch national, and relations between Zimbabwe and the Netherlands have soured significantly in recent months. A group of Dutch farmers, kicked off their Zimbabwean farms ten years ago, have been stepping up their campaign to ensure they are compensated. According to an international arbitration court, the Zimbabwe government owes the farmers almost 24 million euros.

"The Dutch embassy has also been increasingly vociferous and critical of the Zim government, so it seems linked," Worsley-Worswick said.

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