Dogs and Fences
When I attended Gwebi Agricultural College in the early 60's the
told the students that we should watch out for two features when on a
visit - the state of the fences and the nature of the dogs. The first
suggest what sort of farmer we were about to visit and the second would
indicate what sort of an employer he or she was. It was amazing how
these two simple features of ordinary farm life projected accurately
type of farmer we would encounter.
Today we can apply the same criteria to the whole country. The state of
farm fences is such that they no longer contribute in any serious way
management and control of our livestock. They are either falling down
non-existent. As for the dogs - well the only kind of dog seen on most
properties today are thin emaciated animals of dubious pedigree! They
survive by scavenging - like many of the rest of us.
We have now reached the stage where squatters of various descriptions
90 per cent of our large-scale commercial farms illegally. There are,
told, 129 000 small scale squatters - about 500 000 people in all and
12 000 larger scale squatters. Most of the latter are not resident;
bank managers, doctors, and business persons with interests in towns
civil servants. Many are army officers and members of the Police. After
years of chaos, we have about 600 000 people partially settled on 12
hectares of land that once supported 2 million people. The same land
employs about 60 000 people in paid jobs - where once we employed 350
and incomes have plummeted from about three times the national average
well below the national average income per capita.
Before the chaos called "land reform" we were the third largest
tobacco in the world, we were the largest beef exporter in Africa and
major producers of cotton, milk, sugar, fruit and horticultural
The industry generated a third of Zimbabwe's national employment, half
exports and fed a population of 11 million.
Today we have 75 per cent of our population dependent on food handouts
imports; we are unable to supply our needs for vegetable oils, milk,
and fruit. Our food prices have risen to the highest in the region from
being the lowest in Africa in 1997.
And the madness goes on - just this past week at least two farmers per
were being systematically evicted from their land - by force and
legal basis. People need to understand what happens as it still seems
to be totally bizarre and how anyone, anywhere, can call this "land
or defend the practice, is beyond me.
Let me give you one example from the past week. A tobacco farmer - one
200 who were still on their land and were encouraged to grow a crop
year by the authorities, living in a homestead he built in the bush
many years of living in ramshackle conditions while he became
Having given away three quarters of his farmland and trying to make a
for himself and his 100 farm workers on the remainder, is giving a
party for his 89 year old father who has been on the farm for 50 years.
convoy of luxury vehicles arrives and men and women in dark glasses and
imported shoes arrive at the gates and inform the farmer that he has 24
hours to leave. The convoy departs leaving a Police detail to ensure
assets are removed when the family departs.
In the ground are 35 hectares of tobacco, weeks away from reaping and
crops that are grown in rotation or as supplements - a bit of
The inputs for the crop - fertilizer and chemicals are in the sheds as
tractors and several trailers and all the other equipment you need to
By Monday morning the farmer and his family are with friends in Harare
the farmer is desperately trying to get the people he is contracted
the tobacco to persuade someone to get him permission to go back and
his crop - to no avail. The ZTA hold an emergency meeting with the
of the Reserve Bank and he calls in the army and the Police and demands
action to protect the crop - to no avail.
The farmer and his family have been "allowed" to take three quarters of
their furniture and their personal effects. There was even a squabble
the farm pick up - the 7 tonne truck was a no go.
This farmer was - with several others in the District, helping hundreds
small growers who were trying to grow tobacco on the farms they
had grown seedlings, helped with advice and even held a field day on
property when the crop was in and growing. Now they sit shattered by
loss of a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice. Their children bereft
old man confused. When they had bought the land in the early 50's it
been 1200 hectares of wild bush. They had cut the road for 15
from the nearest Council road. Built a pole and dagger hut to live in
grown a tobacco crop to get started. Everything they earned they put
into the farm. They survived the liberation war and helped build up the
industry again after 15 years of mandatory UN sanctions.
All they have to show for this now is some money in a bank, some shares
agro industry and their clothes and some worn furniture that has raised
three children. They have their memories and are now deciding what to
with the rest of their life. They get phone calls from friends in
Botswana - come and join us here. But do they trust Africa again? How
a fresh start in Australia - they find they are too old. The UK? No
links in that direction. South Africa? From the frying pan into the
And the tragedy of it all is that these guys were the best farmers in
Africa. They took marginal land and a variable climate and no help from
anyone except a hard-nosed bank and built up an African empire with
African expertise. Now it's all gone and all that remains are a few
dogs and broken down fences. It will take a long time to put it all
And for those people who try to justify this racist, illegal,
short sighted action, I say what about the consequences for the
now suffer and who have no external options or havens of safety? If we
going to allow such actions simply because a few of the victims are
then we have really lost the plot altogether.
Bulawayo, 20th December 2004.