Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Zimbabwe, Formerly an African Breadbasket

"He [police commander] said that mother and daughter Grace Mugabe wanted this place. So you better move away"
"They left us out in the open [after destroying their homes]. We felt betrayed."
"Even if they come back [the white European/Zimbabwean farmers] , that's fine as long as they give us another place."
"We won't deny them. What we need is only some land where we can survive -- and title to the land."
Denboy Chaparadza, Mazowe village leader, Zimbabwe

"Repossessing our land cannot be challenged or reversed."
"[But I am] committed to compensating those farmers from whom land was taken."
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa
Farmer Darryn Smart, centre, and his family are welcomed back to their farm, Lesbury, by workers and community members Thursday  in Tandi, Zimbabwe.Smart’s return, facilitated by Mnangagwa’s government, could mark a new turn in the politics of land ownership.
Farmer Darryn Smart, centre, and his family are welcomed back to their farm, Lesbury, by workers and community members Thursday in Tandi, Zimbabwe.Smart’s return, facilitated by Mnangagwa’s government, could mark a new turn in the politics of land ownership.  (Farai Mutsaka / The Associated Press

When he was Robert Mugabe's heavy enforcer, Emmerson Mnangagwa's violence in forcefully denying white farmers' titled ownership of large, productive farms that gave Zimbabwe its agricultural reputation with ample food to feed the population and more yet to send abroad whose sale brought great profit to the government, ensured the ruination of the nation's food supply. The confiscated land was then transferred to the ownership of Mugabe loyalists, recognized as those who fought for independence.

The Zimbabweans who had worked for generations for the white farmers, earning a living and proudly considering themselves well-remunerated and -respected farm workers were put out to pasture, while the new owners moved in, and while some made an effort to replace the work of the ousted farmers, others were content merely to be land owners, allowing the land to lie fallow, nothing but weeds thriving on the land abandoned to nature.

Mugabe's infamous land confiscation program led to a breakdown of the economy, high unemployment, soaring inflation and debt, a worthless currency, and hunger. The village leader and farm owner quoted above was describing the villagers of Hazowe's experience when hundreds of police exited their vehicles to issue an order that they vacate the village and their farms. Grace Mugabe wanted their land, for which they had no legal title. The Mugabes in fact, owned about 40 percent of all the confiscated farmland.

Refusing to leave, though their homes were destroyed, they experienced police harassment, threats and violence. The 146 families who were being violently coerced to leave Mazowe had themselves seized the land in 2000 from a white farmer under the land reform program. Still called Arnolds Farm, the 1,260 hectares of prime farmland and cattle ranching beside a lake had become home to those families. All of the country's richest most arable land was in the possession of a few thousand white settlers at a time when the country was called Rhodesia and white settlers ruled the country.

With Robert Mugabe finally persuaded to step down after 37 years as president, the latter decades completely ruinous to the fortunes of the country and its people, the government is attuned to the need to compensate the white farmers whose properties were seized, as a way of demonstrating to potential investors that theirs is a country of law and order where their investments will be safe for Western nations and international lenders to return.

Zimbabwe's economy is in dire need of Western assistance to revive itself. Almost all the Zimbabweans benefiting from the land policy by taking possession of farms the white farmers were violently removed from, were given no registered titles to the land they seized, although the government encouraged them to take the land. Government officials began mapping the 6,000 farms sized from the late 1990s under the fast-track program, to enable the country to qualify for international credit.

The raids in Mazowe no longer continue with the ouster of Robert Mugabe. Unlike the efficient and professional farming techniques that had rendered the land so productive, those families occupying the village practised a traditional type of subsistence farming. The tools and machines owned by the prosperous white farmers were not at their disposal; they were reduced to farming by hand. Which leaves the glaring question: since everything owned by the white farmers was taken from them in complete dispossession, what happened to that machinery?

It would have made sense for it to have been left on the farm for the use of the families that took possession of the farm to continue the agricultural purpose of the land. Corruption was so rife that while the farmers were given no compensation for the sacking of their property and its mechanical farming tools, even while the government invited black Zimbabweans to take the land, they likely took everything considered to be of any value to be given to those in power.

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