Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

More White Zimbabwean Farmers Expelled

New seizures breach Mugabe's declaration three years ago that land reform programme was over.
By Joseph Sithole
Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe's philosophy as he launched his so-called "fast-track" land reform programme in 2000 was simple: the end justifies the means.

But that was precisely the bone of contention of those who advised caution and respect for the rule of law as thousands of white commercial farmers were violently expelled from their land and a number were brutally assaulted and killed

The doubters, however, were in a minority and did not have the enforcing powers enjoyed by those who wield political power. In the event, Zimbabwe’s land reform went ahead - unplanned, chaotic, violent, imprecise and economically destructive. Seven years down the line, remaining white-owned commercial farms are being expropriated in a new wave of seizures and reallocated, mainly to politicians of Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party and those with good connections to the government.

The new seizures are a direct breach of Mugabe's declaration in August 2003 that the land reform programme was over. He called then on those of his political colleagues and loyal judges who had seized more than one white-owned property to return some to the government. The then land minister John Nkomo said the government would conduct a series of land ownership audits to “weed out” multiple farm owners. That was the end of the story. No one was weeded out. And things have since gone from bad to worse with the arrival of Didymus Mutasa at the land, land reform and resettlement ministry.

Mutasa, perhaps more virulently anti-white than even Mugabe, has issued eviction orders like confetti to Zimbabwe's remaining white farmers since he took up his land affairs post in mid-2005. Mutasa, one of Zimbabwe's most feared officials, is also minister of state security and head of the secret police, making him second only in power to Mugabe. Dismissing concern for the HIV/AIDS epidemic that kills more than 3000 Zimbabweans each week, Mutasa has said the country would be "better off" with only half the current population.

In January, Mutasa stunned Zimbabweans, the overwhelming majority of whom remain landless despite Mugabe's land reforms, when he gave the Kondozi Estate, in eastern Zimbabwe, to his friend Transport Minister Christopher Mushohwe. Before it was violently seized by the government in 2004, Kondozi was one of the leading horticultural farms in southern Africa, with a turnover of more than 15 million US dollars a year. Some 5000 workers and their families were dependent on the success of the enterprise.

What happened at Kondozi - owned by black Zimbabwe businessman Edwin Moyo in partnership with white Zimbabwean farmer Piet de Klerk - was shocking, mirroring the whole of Mugabe fast-track reform catastrophe.

Kondozi's 550 acres were producing huge quantities of baby corn, sugar peas, green beans, melons and red peppers that were flown almost daily to supermarkets in Britain and South Africa. The lowest paid workers were earning the equivalent of 100 US dollars a month, a princely sum by Zimbabwe's current dire standards. Farm workers had free housing and primary schooling for their children, and company clinics provided free health care.

Then on Good Friday 2004 police with sub-machine guns and water cannons invaded the farm, drove away the workers, and beat and arrested those who tried to resist.

Today at Kondozi, there is only dry earth where rows of sweet corn maize once grew tall and only weeds where green beans and peppers used to sprout. It was not only the farm workers who were driven into destitution and forced to live on roadside verges. Some 22 black farmers who sold beans, maize and melons to Kondozi under contract also lost their livelihoods.

Barclays Bank, which funded Kondozi, in its heyday an oasis or organised agriculture, had to write off huge loans.

The madness is not yet over. Mutasa has issued a new warning that the government will take over all remaining white-owned farms, "except..the lucky ones".

His definition of "lucky ones" refers to the tiny handful of white farmers who have vocally supported Mugabe's land reforms and not made any protests.

When Mugabe began his controversial policy, there were some 5,000 white commercial farmers. Now there are fewer than 400, all on reduced acreages.

Mutasa's latest decree has caused huge alarm among residual commercial farmers, most of who had applied for new 99-year leases of their farms after the government nationalised all land in 2005. So far, these farmers have yet to receive responses to their lease applications. Most had remained on the land, despite the political violence and deteriorating economic situation, because they were engaged in such specialised farming as dairy, poultry, sugarcane, tobacco and beef stock. These farms are located mainly in difficult, semi-arid areas of Zimbabwe, which did not attract the attention of land invaders in the early stages of the land grab exercise.

Many remaining white farmers in the Chiredzi district of semi-arid Masvingo province, 350 kilometres southeast of Harare, were ordered by Mutasa to vacate their properties in the first week of February. One Mugabe loyalist, ZANU PF parliamentary deputy Titus Maluleke, stormed a Chiredzi farm with soldiers, forced the owner, Collin Labat, from his property and declared himself the new owner.

Mutasa's expulsions went ahead in spite of numerous appeals by Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono calling for an end to farm evictions to allow farmers to restore order and begin productive work again. Mutasa’s actions expose just how dysfunctional the Mugabe government has become, unable to agree among its members on a constructive way forward. Analysts, meanwhile, predict ever-darker gloom for Zimbabwe’s economy before sanity is restored in the agricultural sector, once the backbone of a healthy economy.

Renson Gasela, agriculture and land secretary of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, said the new wave of farmers ordered to go will have no option but to slaughter or sell their entire cattle herds.

“Is there anything functioning that this government won’t destroy?" Gasela asked. "What is there that is still working and will be spared?”

Fresh legislation - the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act - makes it illegal for a farmer to remain on one of the farms newly listed by Mutasa. The once-powerful Commercial Farmers Union said there had been a flurry of eviction notices, which have seen 80 farmers displaced since last October.

What is baffling about the latest evictions is that the targeted farmers have only one farm to their names, most of which have been reduced to 20 hectares shared with new black settlers. While in theory Mugabe has said no farmer who wants to farm will be left without land, his ministers seem to have agendas of their own which critics say amount to “ethnic cleansing”.

Whatever the future holds for Zimbabwe, there is no doubt that it will take the destroyed agricultural system decades to recover, if ever, and regain for the country its previous glory as the breadbasket of southern Africa.

Lost markets in Europe, North America and Africa may never be recovered.

Hippo Valley Estates, covering 125 square kilometres in Chiredzi, has for fifty years been Zimbabwe's biggest sugar producer. But the European Union withdrew its privileged sugar export quota after militias and peasant militants loyal to Mugabe invaded parts of the estate, destroyed crops and reduced production.

The country has also lost its 9100-tonne annual beef quota to the EU as a result of rampant foot and mouth disease caused by the uncontrolled movement of native cattle and wild animals because of land invasions which have seen the widespread tearing down of fences, often to make animal snares.

Because of its increasing international isolation, Zimbabwe no longer enjoys the tax concessions on textile exports that the US gives to developing nations.

“All these disasters are problems of our own making,” said an agricultural expert who asked no to be named. “It’s that simple. How can you settle a person who has no resources and has no experience of farming on a sugarcane plantation and expect him to produce?

“Maize, yes - anybody with a hoe can produce this for himself. That is why you see a lot of tree destruction across the country as peasants do chitemene farming (burning vegetation as a crude method of fertilising the soil). But intensive, high quality maize production for export is what Zimbabwe desperately needs to get foreign currency to import electricity, diesel, petrol, drugs and everything else."

Zimbabwe's leading economist, Peter Robinson, said he estimates that if all on-farm disruptions stopped today and "everybody put their shoulder to the plough", it would still take Zimbabwe nearly a quarter century to restore agricultural production to the level of 1996/7 - a record year before Mugabe's land reform began. "Our current position," said Robinson, "is like falling to the bottom of a well and trying to get out with few prospects of success because we keep falling back."

So far, the government has yet to indicate it has a strategy to halt the precipitate decline. Zimbabwe has the fastest declining gross domestic product in the world, with GDP having declined absolutely every year for the past seven years. Inflation is running at nearly 1300 per cent, by far the highest in the world. In the first week of February alone, prices of essential goods quadrupled.

Everything now hinges on the outcome of Mugabe’s succession politics. Will he go next year, after a scheduled presidential election. Or will he succeed in his present efforts to postpone the election until 2010 and thus extend his uninterrupted rule to more than thirty years? Without a change on the political front, all reputable analysts warn that Zimbabwe can kiss goodbye to any prospects of immediate economic recovery.

Joseph Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.

More IWPR's Global Voices

FakeWatch Africa
Website to provide multimedia training and resources for fact-checking and investigations.
FakeWatch Africa
Africa's Fake News Epidemic and Covid-19: What Impact on Democracy?