This is a lengthy but very informative article written by one of the remaining original farmers in Chegutu Zimbabwe.
When the Truth Becomes a Casualty:
The recent utterances by the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe about farm invasions being “isolated”, “blown out of proportion” and most recently, “I can count them,” are a disturbingly false reflection of the reality on farms in Zimbabwe today.
While I write this on the 29 June 2009 I look back a full year to when I was very badly beaten up and abducted with my parents-in-law a year ago today. It was on that afternoon that President Mugabe was being sworn in to office yet again. They made my mother-in-law sign a bit of paper, while she had a gun to her head, saying that we wouldn’t go to the SADC Tribunal to try to get justice in the chaotic farm situation.
We went to the Tribunal anyway, hoping that justice would prevail. We got a judgement on the 28 November 2008; but the Zimbabwe Government was earlier this month found to be in contempt of it and is doing nothing about putting a halt to the chaos.
This does not bode well for the future. And so I would like to invite the Prime minister to join me for a drive through my district so that he can see why. Perhaps we could start in the rather dusty, desolate little town of Chegutu where hundreds of hawkers sell oranges which they have got from people who never planted the orange trees from whence the oranges came. We could proceed to Harare past Mount Carmel farm where we still cling tenuously on. It is important that our globe-trotting Prime minister sees first hand the persecution and destruction and feels the fear and uncertainty on these few remaining commercial farms. If he did, he would undoubtedly question his current state of denial.
A short drive out of town on the main Chinhoyi road will immediately bring him to Senator Madzongwe’s latest prime acquisition – Stockdale Citrus Estate. Interestingly, before the formation of the Unity Government the Senators best efforts at evicting the Etheredges were never fully successful. The ink was barely dry on the Government of National Unity papers before the Etheredges were hounded from their homes and unequivocally denied access to their property. It was a fortunate coincidence that the trees on this farm were dripping with over 6000 tons of citrus immediately ready for harvesting for the important export market. Despite reports to the contrary in the State media, the Etheredges, after irrigating, spraying and fertilizing their crop, haven’t reaped a single orange and all the state of the art equipment owned by the Etheredges has been earmarked by the Senator for her own use.
As the prime minister will come to understand on all the subsequent farms on our dusty drive, the Zimbabwe Republic Police have been the main players in the eviction and harassment of the farmers and their workers in these take over’s. On this, the first farm of the tour, the Etheredges and their workers have had a homestead broken into by police; they have been arrested and jailed; and they have even been shot at by police with some of their workers being hit. Despite the SADC Tribunal ruling in the Etheredges favour, trigger happy policemen with AK 47s still guard the property for the illustrious new “owner.” I would welcome the Prime ministers thoughts regarding the loss of investment, jobs and production in the face of such illegality before we move on.
A book was recently written about Rainbows End farm which is the next farm that we would come to on our drive. It is owned by the Beattie family and is usually buzzing with farming activity. Large citrus orchards and hundreds of hectares of irrigated row crops are the basis for production on this property. For the mathematically minded, it would be simple to work out that from the 800 hectares of irrigated winter cereals which the Beattie’s would normally have the capacity to produce, ten million loaves of bread could be made. This year, well past the wheat planting date, not a single ton of wheat will be converted into bread as all the lands are lying fallow. Mr. Beattie is being prosecuted by the State and undergoing a lengthy trial for the unique Zimbabwean crime of farming. He has already lost tens of thousands of orange trees to Minister Bright Matonga, who, after reaping the available oranges, left thousands of trees to die untended. The Beattie’s now face a new invasion on Rainbows End farm and have to run the daily gauntlet through the rent a mob in their yard, and battle to pass through their homestead gates that the invaders often lock.
Ten kilometres out of Chegutu the melancholic sign post for none other than “Madzongwe Road” tells a story in itself. It is the road to our farm. The sign is bent and faded and tired looking. Maybe it looks a bit like us. If the Prime minister were to turn off here the first white owned farm he would come to belongs to Retief Benade. This farm, like every other, is also under siege. There is no chance of police assistance for the farmer here as the invader is a senior policeman himself. What else can one expect in what has become a police state? Mr. Benade realised he would not win. In desperation, last month, he sold his entire beef and dairy herd of a few hundred animals, including his breeding cows. They did not go to another breeder, they went for slaughter. No one buys breeding herds in countries where investments are not protected. Breeding herds are long term investments – phenomena that has become obsolete in the Zimbabwe of today. Mr. Benade has taken his expertise to Zambia. To go elsewhere in Zimbabwe would be asking for trouble. The farm invasions are wide spread. That is the undeniable truth.
Next door is Northleigh farm belonging to the Bronkhorsts. The Prime minister will learn that this was until recently the biggest dairy farm in the Chegutu district. Earlier this year policemen and the lands officer assisted invaders who broke into the main house and took possession of the house and farm. They had no authority from a court to do so, but who needs authority from courts in a lawless state? Mr. Bronkhorst eventually moved off. What belongings he could salvage, he managed to get off two weeks ago. Despite the taking over of a dairy farm with its entire infrastructure, there is no longer a single cow being milked on Northleigh farm.
Next up, this time on the left, is Balclutha farm. This was a well run cropping farm, perhaps one of the most productive in the country, employing about 300 workers. It has produced thousands of tons of seed maize, seed wheat and soya beans each year and did so again this year. The brother-in-law of the controversial Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono has the offer letter for this farm. The owner managed to reap his crops last month but hasn’t planted a winter crop. Like almost all the other remaining “white” farmers he has recently received a notification from the Ministry of lands ordering him to “Cease Cropping.” Like all the other “white” farmers we pass on the tour, he is also being prosecuted in the courts. It’s just too risky for him to take the chance and sow food crops. If money is invested into a crop and the new “owner” moves on just before the harvest, the police will not help and the farmer will stand to lose everything. Besides which, he will probably join the other criminals in jail for having the audacity to commit the dastardly crime of farming.
On the neighbouring farm, Mount Carmel, where we are, the whole harvest has been looted by the people who represent the offer letter holder. This was the largest mango producing farm in Zimbabwe until ZANU PF octogenarian, Nathan Shamuyarira, moved “Landmine” and his people on in April this year. It is certainly profitable to move on to a farm at harvest time in a lawless country if you are a chef. Farm workers were beaten and bones were broken. One of our workers was left with a fractured skull and another with a broken foot. Some were imprisoned and further beaten by police. At a court hearing the magistrate ordered that a medical examination of these police beatings be done but this was never actioned. Our workers currently live without water or electricity at their dwellings as the invaders have cut them off. This is part of their unbridled attempt to harass them out of their houses in the same manner as they have evicted my parents-in-law, Mike and Angela Campbell, from theirs. Despite two High Court orders in April this year ordering the invaders off Mount Carmel, the harvesting of all the Mike Campbell P/L crops by the invaders, continues on unabated even today.
A drive to the Campbell’s house would be ill advised here as at Stockdale. Invaders with guns zealously guard the road to the homestead. The deputy Prime minister, Arthur Mutambara, along with both Ministers of Home Affairs, witnessed this dire situation first hand on a fact finding mission back in April but other than a bit of talk, no concrete action was taken and the situation has been allowed to deteriorate.
Alongside the High court order we also have the final Judgement by the SADC Tribunal which said that Mike Campbell, his family and his workers should be allowed to live in their homes undisturbed and be permitted to continue farming. Nothing is being done to effect the judgements. Even when the Zimbabwe Government was found to be in contempt of the SADC Tribunal on 5 June 2009 nothing was done or even said about rectifying their contempt; and so police inaction continues. Losses of export crops due to this continued state-condoned illegal activity amounts to hundreds of thousands of US dollars.
Past Mount Carmel farm there is a significant absence of “white” farmers. They were chased away by police, army and invaders long before the unity government came into being despite the fact that there were no eviction orders to authorise these actions. Both the Reoch’s and the Lilford’s homesteads have since been burnt down and the settlers on these farms are frequent recipients of food and other aid on these derelict farms.
The next “white” farm on this rather depressing trip will be Reydon farm. Here the Chegutu lands officer, Clever Kunonga, is trying to take the farm, this time for himself. This lands officer faces a recent High Court order barring him from the property. He has not adhered to it so he is now facing contempt of court proceedings as well. His relentless persecution of the occupants of Reydon still continue. Last week he had eviction notices served on some of the workers. One of them had no means to oppose the eviction and found himself and his belongings transported off the farm. His belongings were unceremoniously dumped on the road side while he was chucked into jail for understandable trying to resist the eviction. He had nowhere else to go. Bolstered by this triumph, the lands officer is trying to evict more workers from their homes on “his” farm whilst the “white” farmer is away.
Over the road from Reydon on the right is Wakefield farm. Downsized but still remarkably productive, this was perhaps the biggest tobacco producing farm in the country this year. A couple of months ago it was invaded by men with guns. The owner is again being prosecuted for farming and a number of his workers have been evicted by the invaders. He was left with a small handkerchief sized piece of land that had not been allocated. He went to the Minister of Lands earlier this month to get confirmation that he could grow his tobacco crop on this unallocated land; but was immediately afterwards faced with people clutching offer letters for the piece in question. Another 300 workers there stand to lose their homes and livelihoods too.
After that the Prime minister would see no farms still occupied by white people until we would get to the main Harare-Bulawayo road and turn left to Harare. There at Selous we will pass Colin Cloete’s farm. He is yet another farmer going through a tedious and hugely expensive trial for committing the crime of farming. The deputy Prime Minister also visited him in April with the Minister of Lands. It was then discovered that the District Administrator, Mr. Mariga had part of the farm allocated to his brother, but that the farm had never been listed. Just last week, the new Minister of Lands, Herbert Murerwa, listed the farm and on a signature, it was acquired. The laws of a dictator are disturbingly simple. They are not complicated by a judicial process. At the stroke of a pen, homes, livelihoods and often a life time’s work can be acquired. Those are the laws that the SADC Tribunal have struck down. It is distressing that the Prime minister has said nothing about recognising the judgement and has made no move in parliament to change any of these draconian laws of acquisition – or any of the other draconian laws for that matter.
In the last 70 km – from Selous to Harare – the ethnic cleansing of the farms has now been successfully completed. The Prime minister will see no farms still occupied by “white” people. Although the last “white” farmer on his land in this once productive Norton farming area, Richard Price, was swept away through the condoning activities of the Government of National Unity earlier this year, it hasn’t stopped the GNU from proceeding with prosecution against him. This all consuming passion for prosecutions has reached absurd proportions. Proceedings were started against the late father of the vice President of CFU earlier in the year. The papers were drawn up despite the fact that the man in question passed away 4 years ago.
There has been only one case of farms actually being paid for in this area. This was by one Gideon Gono. He had had the ‘genius’ to understand the irrefutable importance of title deeds. It is interesting to note that not one of the many farms that Gono has bought has since been acquired by the State.
So on this 120 km drive, the Prime minister will note that the situation is very bleak indeed. All ten of the farms that were occupied by white people when the Government of National Unity came into being, have since come under siege. Five of the ten farmers in question have already been pushed off their farms. On all of the ten farms the farmers are facing prosecution. On these farms over 500 workers have become unemployed since the GNU came into place. There will be approximately 1400 workers on the ten farms that will be without work if the situation is allowed to carry on. If their dependants are included there will be over 5000 more hungry mouths to feed in a country which has become the most food aid dependant in the world. Millions of US dollars of productive capacity have already been lost since the GNU began, from just these ten farms. Already the orchards that take years to establish are dying. And all this at the hands of a handful of individuals with offer letters, and less than a hundred thugs who have been given carte blanche to act with impunity.
Are these really “isolated incidents?” Are they really being blown “out of proportion?” And most critically are the other roads through the commercial farms in the rest of the country any different?
As the land is wiped “clean”, the stage is being set for another violent election where the people will without exception in the rural areas be under the control of the Presidents’ men. Despite all this there seems to be no urgent move by the Prime minister to initiate the much talked about land audit; no urgent move to recognise property rights and Zimbabwe High Court orders; and most disturbingly for anyone concerned with justice and human rights, no urgent move to even mention the SADC Tribunal and its judgement let alone call for its implementation. There is no country in the world that has ever fed itself and thrived in any way where farmers and their employees have had to live under such perniciously adverse circumstances.
Was it any wonder that the Prime minister was booed in Southwark cathedral for allowing the truth to become the casualty? If we do not face the truth on the farms and in our country and deal with it, the stalking spectre of fear which casts its long shadow over every farmer and farm worker family in Zimbabwe, will only become darker.
Jesus said “the truth will set you free;” and so it will as we all strive to stop the unforgivable compromising of the truth. The alternative – allowing truth to be swallowed up – is to face more years of bondage, destruction and fear for our people and our country. Only when we face the truth and grapple with it, will we see the people of Zimbabwe set free from the yoke of oppression under which we all groan.
Ben Freeth – Mount Carmel Farm, Chegutu.