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Nuns at front line of Mugabe violence against white farmers

Zimbabwe's Archbishop Pius Ncube has has condemned an invasion of a white-owned farm led by two nuns, amid a fresh upsurge of violence against Zimbabwe's white farmers.

At least 13 properties have been invaded in the past fortnight and several farmers have suffered beatings. Arthur and Ansy Swales, who grow maize in the Banket district, 90 km north of Harare, said they had first been approached in 2002 by nuns from the Little Children of the Blessed Lady order, led by Sr Helen Maminimini and Sr Notvurgo, about using some land to grow vegetables.

The couple donated around 90 acres and helped the sisters prepare it, but said the nuns grew increasingly aggressive, demanding expensive equipment and more and more land. Then last month the nuns gave the Swales 24 hours to leave the farm. The couple refused, and 11 days later a group of youths from President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party arrived at midnight.

"They went and woke up all the workers, and made them run and sing government songs," said Mrs Swales. "They forced the guards to open the barn gates so they could get to the equipment. We called the police, but they didn't arrive for 14 hours."

Archbishop Pius Ncube (pictured) stressed that the Church does not support the nuns' actions.

"It definitely was not with the blessing of the Church ... If a nun, a priest or even a bishop steals, it's definitely wrong, because it's against God's law."

More than 3,000 white farmers have been driven off the land since Mr Mugabe's policy of redistribution by force began four years ago, and the Commercial Farmers' Union estimates only 300 of the remaining 600 farmers are active.

Nuns in front line of Mugabe campaign to drive the last whites from Zimbabwe (ZWNews 6/6/04)

Zimbabwe: nuns take part in farm seizure (Independent Catholic News 7/6/04)
Zimbabwean church leaders hit out at government (CathNews 29/9/03)
Zimbabwe bishops want youth militia disbanded (17/9/03)
Zimbabwe church leaders meet Mugabe (29/7/03)
Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference
Zimbabwe police detain outspoken Archbishop before peace service (10/6/03)
Cardinal: A time to pray for Zimbabwe (Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales)
Zimbabwe's Prelate of Courage (Washington Dispatch)
Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference

8 Jun 2004