War veterans illegally occupying a white-owned commercial farm near Nkayi, 320 miles south of Harare, have turned a church on the farm into their "base," preventing Christians in the area from using it for worship.

The church building is on Goulay Farm, owned by a white farmer, Richard Pascal. The farm is one of dozens of white-owned properties invaded by Zimbabweans last year claiming to be veterans of the black liberation struggle in the 1970s.

With tacit support from Robert Mugabe's government, war veterans have occupied 1,700 white-owned commercial farms since February 2000.

The government, which points out that Zimbabwe's white minority owns much of the nation's arable land, is handing farms over to black Zimbabweans. Pascal won a High Court order stopping the government from expropriating his 52,000-acre farm. But the war veterans ignored the court order and invaded the farm.

The church is normally used by peasant farmers and farm workers for worship. The building accommodates more than 400 people, and five different denominations shared it until the building was taken over. It was built at a cost of over US$1 million through donations from foundations in the United States. The complex has a new wing under construction intended to become a medical clinic for local farm workers in the area, but the occupation by the war veterans has brought construction to a halt.

When a reporter from The Daily News, a Harare newspaper, visited the farm last week, 12 of the war veterans were cooking food inside the church building.

A pastor from the Victory Fellowship church, one of the five denominations, who asked the newspaper not to publish his name, said of the veterans' occupation of the church and the farm: "It is a matter we have to leave alone as it is not wise to try to confront the war veterans because we may be regarded as opposing the land issue. We just want to pray and leave politics alone."

Loice Ndlovu, a devout elderly Christian woman told The Daily News: "These people [the occupiers] don't respect God. One day they will be judged accordingly and will get their dues."

She added that the occupation of the church meant she could not attend services. Ndlovu said she could not walk to the next church, more than six miles away.

Related Elsewhere

See The Daily News article, "War veterans turn church building into base," which ran March 16.

Christianity Today's earlier coverage of Zimbabwe includes:

Priest Horrified as Zimbabwe Politician Compared With 'Son of Man' | Incident is not the first such comparison in Zimbabwe politics. (Mar. 30, 2001)

Evangelicals Attempt to Defuse Crises | While decrying land redistribution program, president of Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe stepping down after financial dispute. (Mar. 22, 2001)

Catholic Clergy Concerned About Workers on Zimbabwe's White Farms | "This is no longer a free country," says Conference of Religious Superiors. (Mar. 22, 2001)

Clergyman Forced to Leave Zimbabwe After Criticizing Mugabe Government | Authorities revoke work permit of Presbyterian missionary who accused the government being involved in killings. (Mar. 19, 2001)

Zimbabwe Church Officials Tell Mugabe to Respect Judiciary and Rule of Law | Catholics, Baptists, and others criticize presidential pressure on Supreme Court. (Mar. 19, 2001)

Churches Call for Inquiry Into Zimbabwe's Pre-Election Violence | "In the meantime, accept the election results" says Zimbabwe Council of Churches (July 14, 2000)

Zimbabwe President's Party Refuses to Join Church-Sponsored Talks to End Violence | At least 10 dead in country's escalating political violence (May 2, 2000)

Evangelicals Abstain from Zimbabwe's Interfaith Body | Christian group opposes blending of Christianity and traditional African religion. (Apr. 18, 2000)

Church Council Urges Swift Resolution of Zimbabwe's Row over White Farms | Land redistribution must be done "in a systematic, just and transparent manner" (Mar. 23, 2000)

Zimbabwe's Black Anglican Priests Claim Exclusion at White Ceremonies | Four priests resign, alleging widespread racism (Nov. 24, 1999)

Gun-Toting Missionaries Given Light Sentences (Nov. 15, 1999)

Missionaries or Mercenaries? (May 24, 1999)