In Times Like These
We have had a superb wet season - at home I have recorded over 800
millimeters of rainfall - well above our average of about 600. In the north
the season has been drier - they are running at about 75 per cent of normal,
but the distribution of the rain has been so regular that many are saying
that they have record yields on the little they were able to plant. A
feature of this season is that the rivers have not flooded as in the past -
roaring raging tides of brown water, sweeping away all in their path.
Instead our rivers are generally clean and flowing normally.
The reason is that there are so few cattle - to raise cattle, you must have
security and following the farm invasions, no one has security. There is
simply no rule of law and all forms of livestock - especially the large
mammals, are vulnerable to theft. So the veldt is green and lush, grass up
to your shoulders almost everywhere. The winter fires are going to be
terrible because there is so much grass and there are no firebreaks. Who
builds firebreaks on land they do not own?
Even with the good rains I personally do not expect maize production to
reach more than 500 000 tonnes - about 25 per cent of what we need. We
already know that tobacco production is not going to exceed 35 000 tonnes -
about 15 per cent of what we grew in the past and even this is under threat
from the current wave of farm invasions.
The world is weary of our problems over land, I do not blame them, but that
does not in any way diminish the seriousness of what has and is happening to
our farmers. In the year 2000, our farming industry consisted of about 700
000 small scale farmers on nearly 20 million hectares. They grew 60 per cent
of our maize needs and about 85 per cent of the cotton plus a fair amount of
beans, groundnuts and sorghum. They supported a population of about 3,5
That same year we had about 5 500 large-scale commercial farmers, occupying
about 8 million hectares of land, employing 350 000 workers and providing
support for about 2 million people. These farmers were among the most
productive in the world. They supplied global markets with flue cured
tobacco - taking third place behind the United States and Brazil, they
produced 600 000 tonnes of sugar, half of it for export, 1 million tonnes of
maize, some of which was exported. In addition they sold over 400 000 head
of cattle annually, made the country self sufficient in milk, pig meat,
poultry and fruit of all kinds and supplied 8 per cent of Europe's imports
of horticultural produce.
In doing so, they generated half all export revenues and 60 per cent of
industrial activity and they did this without subsidy from the State. Some
25 per cent of these farmers were black and most farms employed black
managers. Their owners had purchased 83 per cent of all these farms after
independence in 1980 having first obtained certificates of 'No Interest'
from the State indicating that the land was not required for land reform.
Today, we have a handful of productive farms still operating - either under
their original owners or under those who have occupied them since the owners
were driven off their properties. At the start of this season I think we had
about 300 dairy farms, 200 tobacco growers and a small number of fruit and
horticultural producers. Instead of being net agricultural exporters, we now
import 80 per cent of our food and are the largest beneficiary of food aid
in the world. We export less tobacco than any other country in the region,
including Mozambique. Sugar production is down by 50 per cent and we are
importing sugar. We are also now importing milk, pig products and even
Our once diversified and competitive industries are a broken, empty shell,
starved of raw materials and packaging and spare parts. Financially
insolvent, they cannot even borrow the money to restart their operations -
the banks have no resources to lend. The population in the small scale
farming areas has shrunk to about 2 million people and on commercial farms I
doubt if a quarter of the population remains.
Legally the owners of the large-scale farms have taken their case to the
Courts, not just in Zimbabwe but also in many other countries and have won.
The Courts have consistently stated that their rights have been violated,
they hold valid and legal title to the land they once farmed and that the
action taken to dispossess them was racially motivated and criminal in
intent. These same Courts have stated that unless the State pays the
original owners fair and reasonable compensation for the assets taken and
the losses sustained, the State cannot claim ownership.
The present farm invasions are even worse. The Zanu PF Party signed the
Global Political Agreement last year, in front of African leaders and is now
ignoring those clauses that state that the new inclusive government must
restore the rule of law and protect property rights. In fact it is the view
of those who negotiated the agreement that any farm invasions after the 15th
September are a violation of the agreement. Those who have planted crops
this past summer did so in the belief that they would be allowed to complete
the season and reap the results. Not so, by simply writing a letter, a
senior official can give anyone the right to invade a property, evict the
owner and take possession of the homestead, the crops, equipment and
livestock that have take a lifetime of hard work to establish.
If they defy the order, these farmers and their workers are then being
threatened with prosecution and imprisonment and Magistrates are 'fast
tracking' these and in many cases, imprisoning the farmers and their staff
for occupying their properties 'illegally'. We have good information that
Magistrates (not all of them) are taking payments from the Cabal that is
running this campaign in return for loyalty and fast action. The same
applies to the Police who are enforcing this programme. Officials who do not
comply with instructions are transferred or punished.
No amount of argument that 'the land was taken from us and all we are doing
is taking it back' will cut any ice with the Courts of law. Nearly all the
farmers affected are full citizens of Zimbabwe and have the right, under our
constitution, to demand protection for their assets and safety. Both have
been and are being denied and the fact that the great majority invested
after independence makes their case even stronger.
But put the law aside and even the financial aspects, outsiders know little
or nothing of the trauma that has been involved for the millions of people
displaced by the farm invasions. Many of my own friends who were farmers,
loved their farms and the way of life. They invested everything they made in
their farms and took little out. They have no pensions or external assets to
talk about. Many are now destitute or working at menial jobs in cities near
and far. Even now, many find it difficult to talk about what has happened to
them, their families and their staff.
The generosity of those countries, especially Britain and the USA, who have
made humanitarian assistance available to us to alleviate the problems
created by this man made disaster, is laudable. But it also makes it
possible for the people who did this to get away with it despite the
consequences. In times like these, justice is needed.
Bulawayo, 15th March 2009