In reply to Max du Preez's column on "Zimbabwe's flourishing farms" (see Cape Times column here).
Joe Hanlon, quoted in Max's piece, is a distinguished author and commentator on Southern African politics and economics, notably on Mozambique. However, his book, "Zimbabwe Takes Back The Land," published earlier this year, makes assertions that are so wide of a truth so vividly apparent on the ground, that they leave one open-mouthed with disbelief.
There are volumes of misapprehensions in his book, but I will confine myself briefly to a few fundamental points. I have been reporting as a journalist on the euphemistically-named "fast-track land reform programme" since it began in 2000 and its implications.
Drive through the former commercial farming areas and you will find cropping land that was intensively farmed in 2000, reverted to wild grassland, except for scattered subsistence plots of stunted maize. Cattle have disappeared almost entirely.
The seizures of white-owned farm land were not the spontaneous impulse of land hunger asserted by Mr Hanlon. The recorded evidence is that it was initiated by President Mugabe as a strategy to prevent Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC from winning elections in 2000. It was effected by the Central Intelligence Organisation, which is under his direct control, and using army, police and other government agencies for transport and logistics.
"Settler" communities were rounded up from peasant areas and dumped on commercial farms without provision of any of the necessities for farming, shelter, health or education. They were Zimbabwe's version of the "Discarded People," the forced removals by the apartheid government of blacks in KwaZulu Natal in the 1970's that were exposed by Catholic priest Cosmas Desmond.
In the late 1990s, the UN carried out two large-scale surveys that showed that 75 percent of Zimbabweans wanted jobs rather than land, in contrast to the ZANU(PGF) propaganda portrayal of the farm invasions as an expression of national land hunger.
Mr Hanlon says that 250 000 peasant farmers have equalled the output of commercial farmers. Yet food production has collapsed, Zimbabwe is dependent on maize imports, and foodstuffs in supermarkets are almost exclusively imports from South Africa. Zimbabwe used to be self sufficient in food, and industrial products.
To expect an impoverished people with no access to credit, fertilisers or crop chemicals, depending on hand-made hoes and ploughs for implements, to produce on the same scale as commercial farmers backed by bank loans, sophisticated mechanical equipment, high-grade seed and chemicals, is naïve in the extreme. It is a fiction created by ZANU(PF) that Mr Hanlon has fallen for.
Mr du Preez is right to urge South Africa against adopting Mr Mugabe's land-grab. I would urge him to come up and see for himself how Mr Mugabe's efforts have made a wasteland of what was Africa's second most prosperous country.
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