Concern as land-grab chaos ‘swept under the carpet’

The book ‘Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land’

By Alex Bell
29 January 2013

There is growing concern that the chaos that highlighted ZANU PF’s land grab campaign is actively being swept under the carpet, to the detriment of the country’s agricultural future.

The most recent attempt to normalise the situation has been the publication of a new book that paints the land grab as a resounding success, insisting that farm production in Zimbabwe is returning to ‘normal’. Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land has been written by three scholars and is based on an assessment of three farms in Mashonaland Central during one month last year.

The book pays little attention to the inhumanity of the land grabs, ignoring the human rights abuses that took place and the illegality of the process. Instead the authors spoke to the ‘fast-track’ owners of the seized farms they visited and looked at their ‘successes’. The book details how black Zimbabweans have successfully “taken back their land,” and farms are returning to the positive production levels seen in the 1990s.

These details are being criticised as ‘misleading’ and an attempt to ‘sanitize’ what happened during the land seizures that began in 2000. Figures from the remaining commercial farming community differ strongly to what the book is suggesting. The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) and MDC-T policy advisor Eddie Cross, both agree that the agricultural sector remains in serious trouble, with the country almost entirely reliant on imported food or aid to survive.

Figures supplied show that the only meaningful production is in the cotton and tobacco sectors, which are still nowhere near the levels they should be. In terms of food, 95% of the country’s wheat is imported, along with 60% of maize and 70% of milk and dairy products. The most recent statistics provided by the United Nations on Zimbabwe’s food aid needs, state that more than 1.6 million people are facing hunger. But it is thought this could be much higher.

CFU President Charles Taffs told SW Radio Africa on Tuesday that the land grab exercise was a disaster and one that was steeped in “political greed.” He explained it had little to do with real empowerment, especially when an estimated two million farm workers and their families lost everything as a result of the seizures. He explained how at least 350,000 Zimbabweans used to be employed on farms up until 2000, but now there are only about 60,000 farm jobs.

“We can’t hide behind fictitious facts like the ones in this book. The bottom line is agriculture is in a mess,” Taffs said.

He added: “We are seeing a massive social downfall in Zimbabwe. Poverty is at record levels, life expectancy has dropped to very young ages, the health sector is on its knees, and the education sector is struggling. We need to create a meaningful production base in Zimbabwe to turn this around and encourage investment, but to get there we need property rights.”

Taffs travelled to London this week to share his views on the real situation regarding Zimbabwe’s land, to counter what is being promoted in the book. The books authors are also in London attending discussions on Zimbabwe’s land situation, and one of the events will be the site of a demonstration organised to protest the book’s contents.

The London based Zimbabwe Vigil will be protesting outside Chatham House in the city on Thursday, where the book’s authors will gather for a discussion. In an open letter to Chatham House, the Vigil said: “We believe the illegal and violent seizure of commercial farms is an abuse of human rights. British courts have found this to be the case.”

“If, as claimed in the book, agricultural production is returning to former levels, the Vigil warmly welcomes it. But this assertion does not square with the statement by the UN that 1.6 million Zimbabweans are facing starvation – some 12% of the population – and for yet another year Zimbabwe needs international food aid.”

The letter adds: “Whether or not the agricultural situation is improving, and it could hardly fail to, the land seizures were illegal under international law and the SADC treaty. This has fatally undermined agriculture sector finance, especially since Zimbabwe has yet to meet its legal obligations to pay compensation.”

To contact this reporter email [email protected] or follow on Twitter

13 Responsesto “Concern as land-grab chaos ‘swept under the carpet’”

  1. ` a new book that paints the land grab as a resounding success` ?? ha ha, if 1.6 million people are facing hunger. But it is thought this could be much higher, then where is the success? munyepi.

  2. super mondo says:

    only an idiot like a highly uneducated warvet would think that having a farm makes him rich.farming is about hard mental and physical commitment 7 days a to be found and paying bills.should of left the farmers alone..idiots

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think this book was written by racist , murderers , thieves and ZANU(PF) supporters. Can you please name these fools ?

  4. Chimbwidos Warvets says:

    When people are desperate they make fools of themselves. It is pointless misplacing our energies on an issue that can be compared to beating a dead horse when some is trying to raise interest in an issue that the majority of the people this country support anymore – beating a dead horse will not make a dead horse do any more work. No one in his/her wildest dream will reverse the land question in Zimbabwe even if the authors of this book had not embarked on writing their findings.
    The land that was stolen for hundreds of years from its rightful owners can never be given back to thieves. And no thief even in international law, can reclaim what been stolen. Let there be a closure to this issue as it becoming monotonous talking about the same subject now and again. Any so-called commercial farmer who is aggrieved by the takeovers of our land which was given to its rightful owners should have audience with the British government as we never invited any white man to Zimbabwe but they took a calculated risk in coming to my country and imposed their will on my people. I repeat what I have said before that Zimbabweans are not fools as they know their history too well. Anyone can cry tears of blood but they will not move us not by a millimeter. Those who have ears to hear let them hear.

  5. Chimbwidos Warvets says:

    When people are desperate they make fools of themselves. It is pointless misplacing our energies on an issue that can be compared to beating a dead horse. Frankly speaking, when someone is trying to raise interest in an issue that the majority of the people this country do not support anymore is like beating a dead horse and this will not make a dead horse do any more work. No one in his/her wildest dream will reverse the land question in Zimbabwe even if the authors of this book had not embarked on writing their findings. These guys who are criticized are scholars of high repute who carried out an intellectual research. They obviously know what they are talking about.
    The land that was stolen for hundreds of years from its rightful owners can never be given back to thieves. And no thief even in international law, can a thief reclaim stolen property. Let there be a closure to this issue as it becoming monotonous talking about the same subject now and again. Any so-called commercial farmer who is aggrieved by the takeovers of our land which was given to its rightful owners should have audience with the British government as we never invited any white man to Zimbabwe. The white people took a calculated risk in coming to my country and imposed their will on my people without consulting them. I repeat what I have said before that Zimbabweans are not fools as they know their history too well. Anyone can cry tears of blood but they will not move us not by a millimeter. Those who have ears to hear let them hear. It is that straightforward.

  6. Mike Rook says:

    As a previous citizen of Zimbabwe (before my citizenship and vote were snatched away because of my British heritage) I feel reasonably qualified to comment on the above-mentioned book Zimbabwe’s Land Reform (by Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart).

    It was at the turn of the Millennium when Zimbabwe started its long and painful slide into perdition: sinking slowly at first but soon destined to plummet into the abyss with the speed of a lead weight falling through space. The cost of living had launched into its long climb towards the stars and retrenchments unemployment and abject poverty were becoming the order of the day.

    There were two mortal blows that led to Zimbabwe’s economic implosion. The first mortal blow was the extensive and often violent farm invasions. Disastrous and unplanned fast track appropriation of lucrative and productive farmland took place under the respectable and erroneous guise of Zimbabwe Land Reform.

    The second mortal blow was the unscheduled unbudgeted payouts made to placate very angry and frustrated war veterans. In almost the blink of an eye the Zimbabwe currency started to depreciate against the hard currencies of Europe and America and the country’s once vibrant economy began to self destruct.

    It is a matter of fact that the so called Land Reform that took place was totally dishonest and immoral.

    What should have been a noble cause turned into a fiasco. It was more a scramble by the rich and the powerful for the biggest and the best agricultural enterprises rather than a well executed exercise to resettle and economically empower the majority of rural Zimbabweans. In fact the rural folk were subjected to a gargantuan confidence trick in order to curry votes and favour.

    It was unscrupulous paid political thugs and opportunists posing as hungry landless peasants that were responsible for the violent land invasions and not the majority of peace loving Zimbabweans from the countryside.

    This dastardly act of misleading rural Zimbabweans was carried out to buy loyalty and support for the dictator Mugabe and his ZANU/PF lackeys. Patronage in the form of acquired productive farms was dished out to senior and influential army air force and police personnel and to ruling party political heavyweights. Zimbabwe’s agriculture, the bedrock of the economy was relentlessly being pilloried and taken apart. Soon crop volumes dropped alarmingly causing basic commodities to become scarcer and more expensive. The deleterious effect on key agricultural exports such as tobacco was crippling. The large spectre of foreign currency shortages cast a longer darker more foreboding shadow over the land which became more horrible and scarier by the day. At the time most citizens failed to realise that the stage had been set for an unprecedented economic collapse unheard of in a peacetime environment.

    As 2002 gave way to 2003 Zimbabwe’s malaise irrevocably gathered pace as fast as the quality of life faded. It was exceedingly tough for almost everyone: except of course for the ZANU/PF ruling party hackers and politicos.

    Rural and urban Zimbabweans found purchasing the basic necessities of life had become mission impossible. The words disposable income had disappeared from the vocabulary.

    Particularly frightening aspects of the tottering economy were the un-affordability and shortages of essential drugs and the massively escalating charges of medical attention. Health care had become beyond the pockets of most Zimbabweans.

    Average life expectancy was on a sharp downward spiral. Aids fatalities in particular were increasing due to sufferers being unable to pay for or to even find the medication. Even those fortunate enough to source the medication through a non governmental organisation were losers because the lack of a proper diet totally negated the medication’s usefulness.

    Month on month inflation was creeping up to shocking and unbelievable figures. It began to dawn on stressed Zimbabweans that much worse was yet to come.

    There were no queues for the staple food mealie meal or for fuel (no agriculture, so no foreign currency to import it) In fact the long queues for food and fuel had moved to the passport offices up and down the country.

    Every day thousands of Zimbabweans were desperately trying to get out and seek sanctuary elsewhere. South Africa and the United Kingdom were choice destinations.

    It wasn’t long before both countries were forced to implement a closed door policy imprisoning hungry desperate jobless Zimbabweans in their own country. However most of the horses had already successfully bolted before the stable door was closed and it is estimated that over three million Zimbabweans now reside outside of their homeland.

    With the formal unemployment figure running at over eighty per cent Zimbabweans found themselves at the end of a cul-de-sac.

    Forward to 2013!

    Zimbabwean farmers now have to rely on contract farming because normal market practises are impossible when security of tenure exists no more. Zimbabwean economist John Robertson recently pointed that although there are now buyers numbers for 80 000 mostly small-scale tobacco producers there are actually only 60 000 producers. Twenty thousand of them have two numbers each so they can do a spot of side-marketing. The contractors provide the inputs to grow the crop and in standard Zimbabwe corrupt style the producer takes the inputs, grows his tobacco and sells some of it under his other number all of which is profit. If the contractor is not wide awake and on the spot he is unlikely to recover the cost of the inputs he doled out: regardless of the price he pays. Since the producer has no title he cannot be dispossessed of his land to force payment of what he owes.

    So it is a short term system which is used by a few industries (breweries, tobacco, oil seeds, etc.,) which are desperate for some product to keep their businesses going and their machinery in use.

    Contract farming is not secure. I know of a farmer that leased land off a beneficiary, and also paid a proportion of the rent to the real owner. He thought he was safe. When the crop was nearly ready he was kicked off. The financiers lost their money and the farmer landed up with the experience. The bottom line is there is no certainty without title and the rule of law.

    I am advised of a meeting of the Zimbabwe National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU (erroneously purporting to represent Zimbabwe’s entire agricultural industry) where those attending all admitted that they were now bankrupt and unable to plant anything at all. The solution they believed was for government somehow to compensate farmers for their farms and in this way they hoped they would then be given title. They made it clear that they did not want title to use the properties as security for bank funding; they just wanted either to be able to sell their free farms or lease them back to the dispossessed white owners. But they were adamant farming was a mug’s game and they wanted no more of it. They had at last established that farming is not the money spinner they were led to believe!

    This last year (2012) is predicted to be the worst for agricultural output in Zimbabwe since the fast track land reform programme started.

    With due respect to the learned academic Dr Joseph Hanlon and his literary colleagues, their optimistic observations on land reform in Zimbabwe suggest that before putting pen to paper they should have gone to Specsavers!

    • Chimbwidos Warvets says:

      Of course your views are Eurocentric and not Afrocentric. The land question is a complex issue which can not be described in simplistic terms as you have done in your article above. We know our history the way we know the back of our hand and do not need anyone from former Rhodesian to lecture to us as to how we should have conducted our land redistribution program. That you are a former rhodie does not help your case as you are bound to be biased, confused and at best see the situation from the perspective of a former slave and colonial master. I would not expect a balanced report from you as the indigenous people of this country were your slaves who then graduated to being servants you paid peanuts. Of course, you never liked Mugabe and the war veterans from the very beginning. I can understand that because we kicked your smelly arseholes when the government of Robert Mugabe you never supported came to power. Rhodesians still wanted to maintain a tight grip of economic and political power but that was not to be and you and your masters employed all sorts of dirty tricks to ensure the Mugabe government did not succeed and now you want to stand on high moral ground as our teacher. We have never really enjoyed peace since independence as your country Britain has always been interfering in our internal affairs – economic sanctions and a host of other undesirable tosh. Just stay in England quietly and leave us alone.

      We do not need a long thesis from you which reminds us of the deprivation, murder, tyranny, abuse of our human rights, stealing of our land, exploitation and plundering of our human and natural resources that served the interests of a greedy white elite while my people had nothing. By the way, no white man came to Zimbabwe to help the people of this country but to further their economic and political interests. Today the scenario is the same and that is to serve their economic and political interests. The good thing is that we are very much aware of the power and control games your people still want to exercise in a country that is now a sovereign and independent state.

      • Chris Running Bear says:

        “Shona Dog” I believe is how the other tribes refer to your tribe. There is a reason.for this. Further this is not your tribal area, like the slaves you continually claim you were; you followed the colonialist to Zimbabwe. As the victors of course you have the unique power to change the history in your own land. But remember there are other countries out there that have done the same as you,(America and the native Americans, Australia and the aborigines). You claim rights and titles to land that was purchased from banks by farmers trying to make a living. I understand taking land that was originally settled. But you have become like the masters you once served. The only difference is that now you have your own tribal problems that you must overcome. The world is changing. The levels of corruption in your Government and rantings like yours will only help the other developed nations continue to take advantage of you. Begin looking after your own citizens without the race card, then you will begin to see that there is a road that can take you into the future. A future where you and your government will not have to depend on food aid, and monetary assistance. These are the things that enslave you right now and all a most of you can see is that brand new merc and the big house on the hill. I have known and worked with Shona Zimbabweans for the past 12 years. You are people that were given a head start with your education levels being higher than most African nations. That was an education system that your so called slaved masters built. Use that and learn. Free your country by simply concerning yourselves with your countrymen, black and white. Otherwise the western states will continue to take advantage of you. And when you finally tire of that and have no other solution than to look to the East…….Lets just put it this way. It is easier to kill an eagle or a bulldog than a dragon! You should have no doubt in your mind that in the current world climate, the Western powers will feed you like canon fodder to the orient before every having to worry themselves.

        Better get your S**T together, chop chop!



        • Chimbwidos Warvets says:

          You could be right when you say we followed the colonialists to Zimbabwe. If you know your history well, which I doubt, the boundaries or borders of the African continent were drawn by the European powers at the Berlin Conference in 1884. The conference was held by European despots who drew the map of Africa to what it is today. No African leader or just a mere African observer was present or consulted as the European despots gave themselves pieces of the African land. France was the largest beneficiary of the African countries when the conference gave it 38 per cent of the land followed by Britain that got 32 percent of the African land, Germany got the Kilimanjaro mountain in Tanzania and South West Africa only. This was to be one of the causes of the First World War as Germany was not happy with what it got from the African continent. Of course, it was daylight robbery of the African people who had no in-put to the partition of their continent and never had a say in the manner with which they were governed by their conquerors. From slavery of the African people, to partition of the African continent, then followed colonialism, then neo-colonialism, the African continent has never been at peace.

          It is no wonder there is now a feeling within African States of creating the United States Africa where all countries on the African continent become one country with one foreign policy, one military command, one single currency and one president of the United States of Africa. This may not happen in my generation but it is going to be a reality in time to come.

          I do not want to repeat what I have already said lest it becomes monotonous. You can help yourself by reading my comments I have just posted above for an understanding of where I am coming from.

  7. Mike Rook says:

    At the risk of causing my learned friend Cde Chimbwidos an apolyptic seizure I am posting for his edification this report sent to the South African daily newspaper
    “Beeld” on 31st July 1986


    By Trevor

    Harare, Zimbabwe —White farmers in Zimbabwe today
    received a pat on the back for their loyalty since Independence six years

    Opening the annual congress of the Commercial
    Farmers Union (CFU) at a city hotel Prime Minister Robert Mugabe said that the
    white commercial farmers had helped feed Zimbabwe .

    “A nation that can feed itself is standing on its
    own two feet,” he told CFU delegates.

    Over four hundred
    farmers showed pleasure when Mr Mugabe –the man they most loved to hate during
    the Rhodesian War (1972-1979) spoke of the “great achievement and resilience”
    white farers had shown during the fights against the effects of a recent drought
    and world economic recession following his country’s independence from Britain
    in April 1980.

    He said that the
    annual growth rate in the agriculture sector was 4.5 percent while the
    population growth rate was 3.6 percent.

    The value of all
    agricultural commodities had gone up from Z$s 498 million in 1980 to Z$s 949
    million in 1984.

    Mr Mugabe joined
    in the applause when the outgoing President of the CFU, Mr John Laurie received
    the Farming Oscar. The co-recipient was Jill, Mr Laurie’s wife.

    During his
    speech, which was listened to most carefully by the country’s security chief, Mr
    Emmerson Mnangagwa, the prime minister said that farmers must pay not only the
    legal minimum wage to labourers but also offer annual increments.

    Mr Laurie
    suggested that farmers should make greater efforts to provide decent housing.
    “Some are letting the farming side down,” he declared.

    Agriculture is
    the largest single employer of workers in Zimbabwe . To provide them all workers
    in the industry with decent accommodation would be the equivalent of
    providing houses for the combined total populations of nineteen towns in
    this country.

    Observers at the
    opening of this year’s CFU congress said that the atmosphere was “more relaxed
    than ever before.”

    Another described
    Mr Mugabe’s speech which was full of praise for white farmers as “a stunning
    turnaround. We once hated him but no longer.”

    Mr Mugabe also
    revealed that thanks to the government, army, police and CIO there were two
    hundreds members of the militia in Matabeleland guarding
    white-owned farms against anti-government forces called here

    • Chimbwidos Warvets says:

      I can tell that you are a rhodie because of the manner you write English language, a language that should be your mother tongue but you can not speak and write it well. Most of rhodies never passed elementary school level as they were involved in growing tobacco and maize. The majority of them ended up serving in the police force and army that demanded minimal education although most of them had greater opportunity of going to school and proceed to university than their black counterparts whose education was completely regulated for one singular purpose. It was to keep the black people ignorant, look stupid, exploit them, subjugate them, misinformed of the world around them and a host of other ills. I must hasten to point that I have the following observation based on what you have written above.

      I guess you wanted to say ‘at the risk of causing my learned Chimbwidos apocalyptic seizure I am posting for his education this report sent to the South African daily newspaper’. I guess for you ‘apocalyptic seizure’ in the sense that in many Western religious traditions, it is the period of catastrophic upheaval expected to occur just before the end of the world, when god is expected to come to sit in judgment on humankind. If I have quoted you correctly, that I am not a believer in the supernatural being. I am not a believer in theism, or a belief in the existence of god. I believe in my Zimbabwean tradition and customs or value belief systems, if you like. Having said this, let us now examine what the report sent to the South African daily newspaper says and my observation is as follows:-

      1. Robert Mugabe is a politician who wanted to work with the white community for the good of the country. He and his party introduced the doctrine of reconciliation for all people, black and white to work together as one nation. All war criminals that had killed in his people in a senseless and unjust war were pardoned to achieve this very goal but the
      white community did not take him/us seriously. Rhodesians started to play their usual games of dividing our people on racial and tribal basis with the connivance of the regime in power in South Africa at the time. And foolishly and ignorantly our people played in the hands of their former enemies and many of our people died in the process.
      2. The so-called white commercial farmers in Zimbabwe never wanted to help the government to resolve the land question which was the very basis the war of independence had been fought by the war veterans of Zimbabwe to get our land back to the indigenous people of this country.
      3. It is one of the protracted myths and lies that the conquerors of Zimbabwe ever brought civilization and helped the black people of this county avert starvation. In fact, no white man came to Zimbabwe in order to help the black people of this country but to further their political and economic interests. It is equally a protracted mirth and lies that the white man had an interest in improving the employment opportunities of the black people of this country but to further their economic interests. It is all about power and control of the indigenous people and natural resources of this country. And all we are saying this is no sustainable in this 21st century as the black people of this country should now own and control their land and other resources endowed to the country. It this straightforward.

  8. Mike Rook says:

    Cde Chimbwedos it seems I have made an apocalyptic error in using the word ‘apolyptic’ which I have to admit cannot be found in any English dictionary or thesaurus. An inexcusable error, due to carelessness rather than illiteracy I hasten to add.

    I do appreciate and welcome your continuing responses as debating an issue publicly and expressing opposing points of view, allows you me and any interested readers a better understanding of the Zimbabwe land reform debacle.

    I have to say you write rather like ZANU/PF’s defacto spokesperson George Charamba, who used to regularly contribute a scintillating and extremely biased commentary to Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper under the pseudonym ‘Nathaniel Manheru.’

    During the Chimurenga Chimbwidos like mujibas were youths serving the ZANLA forces; so your bias, hostility, intransigence and totally objective ideological views as displayed in your postings are not at all surprising: just misplaced.

Leave a Reply