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 million people.

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 poultry.

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.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 15th March 2009