Last week I went back to the grave of my father-in-law, Mike Campbell, on De Rus farm in Chegutu, 100 km south of Harare. I snuck onto the farm, which was taken over last year, on foot. It was eerie walking down the towering avenue of jacarandas planted by my friend’s great grandfather. They were bare without a single flower, nor even any leaves. Normally there would have been a haze of cooling blue in the high canopy but there wasn’t even one pool of blue flowers in the driveway.
I called Heidi, whose parents own De Rus farm, on my cell phone. “I am on De Rus and the jacarandas aren’t flowering,” I told her. “It’s as though they’ve gone on strike. They are crying out about what has happened.”
The process of land nationalisation in Zimbabwe has been going on ever since Independence in 1980. Initially land was paid for – and a total of 3.6 million hectares was bought for “re-distribution.” It was not re-distributed though. The State held onto that land and only people supportive of Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF party received any part of the land. It was a control mechanism to ensure the rural people could be controlled by the ruling Party. Approximately 70 percent of the population lives in the rural areas and so this vital voting bloc had to be kept secure from any opposition. If people went against the ruling party, they could be thrown off the land – because they had not been given title to it. A feudal slavery to the party was being established.
After a viable opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was formed in 1999, the process of land nationalisation had to be sped up. Land was violently seized. Invaders were sent in by the ruling party to terrorise the farm workers because they formed a substantial voting bloc of perhaps a quarter of the population of the country. Within a month of the violent invasions, no opposition party rallies could be held on either the commercial farms – or the former commercial farms – ever again. Soon after that, all diplomatic efforts by international ambassadors to go out to the farms to see what was going on were also stopped. Total control was being achieved.
I believe it is fair to say that the only currency that the ruling ZANU PF party has left is fear. Over the intervening 16 years, fear levels have been continually stoked. A constant barrage of propaganda is spewed out. 95 percent of white farmers have been evicted.
The farms of the few who have escaped so far are slowly being ‘listed’, one by one. The draconian Section 72 of the new Constitution allows that once a farm is ‘listed’, a farmer is actually committing a ‘crime’ by farming if he is still doing so after 90 days. Farmers continue to be criminally prosecuted all the time. Others have had to join the protection money racket where they have to pay ZANU PF ministers to be able to stay farming. Others are beaten and made examples of – or killed.
I arrived unseen at the grave site. It is unmarked. We left it like that. There seemed little point in putting up a gravestone after Mike was buried and the farm was then invaded. It was likely to get vandalised. My father-in-law was a leading commercial farmer who had been made an example of. He approached the law – and finally the Tribunal of the Southern African Development Community - and got a judgment to try to stop land nationalisation and the destruction and dependence it caused.
The ruling party didn’t like that. We were abducted and Mike was beaten so badly in their attempt to get him to sign a bit of paper that we would withdraw from the courts, that he never recovered. Mugabe then managed to get the SADC Tribunal closed down. Courts are not good for the unjust. Mike was buried on De Rus opposite another farmer who was murdered in his bed on his farm.
Some of the more compliant white farmers are allowed to go back onto stolen farms – but, like dogs that need to be controlled, they are kept on a very short leash. The Vice President - and President elect – Emmerson Mnangagwa, has been promoting what he calls “Command Agriculture”. Those that partake in it are controlled. None of the white farmers who have gone back to farm will speak to the press. None of them will expose injustices going on around them. If they do, they know full well that all they have invested in growing crops will once again be taken away.
Afterwards, I met up with one of the farm workers from De Rus. Last year nearly 300 of them had jobs. This year none of them are working. Like the jacaranda trees, the farm lies eerily dormant.
I asked him how he was surviving
“We are hungry,” I was told.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Even water we now have to pay 1 dollar for each time we collect 4 buckets.”
I was horrified. I thought about it. In a dry and thirsty land water is essential to life. On a flat farm with no rivers or dams, the people would die without water. They were now like the bare jacarandas with no leaves or flowers. They had no jobs, no houses - apart from the ones they were still clinging onto on the farm, and no way of sending their children to school because it costs around US$40 per child per term. And now this “new farmer”, who was stripping the farm by selling off all the assets he could – which has happened on commercial farms across the country - was charging this exorbitant sum for the water they needed to survive.
I worked it out. By last year, Heidi’s family were on the last 30 hectares of their 1,200 hectare farm. They would have had to have a capacity of about 150,000 litres of water an hour from boreholes to irrigate the 30 hectares. If that water had been sold to poor and desperate people at the rate it was being sold now by the new farmer, it would have bought in US$1,875 an hour at a pumping cost of perhaps US$10!
“That’s slavery!” I said.
That’s what land nationalisation has done, I realised. No-one is accountable any more. The powerful can do what they like. The people are held in a slavery of feudal patronage, reliant on the ruling party for food and shelter and even water. Justice dies. And when ordinary people die, they are buried and lie in unmarked graves under trees that do not want to flower any more.”