via The truth behind the forced closure of ‘The Farmer’ magazine in Zimbabwe Nehanda Radio Apr 25, 2014 by Mike Rook
Early 2002 Zimbabwe’s ‘The Farmer’ magazine that first appeared in 1942 as ‘Vuka’ (the organ of the Matabeleland Farmers’ Union) suddenly disappeared.
The official statement issued at the time by the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) was ‘financial constraints’. The incumbent Director of the Union at that time was David Hasluck. I have been asked on numerous occasions to reveal the true story behind its forced shut down.
Large scale commercial farmers in general and Commercial Farmers Union members in particular continue to query why they were not consulted or even informed of the arbitrary shut down of their only means of communication?
It was a matter of fact that the CFU licence fee was structured to include receipt of ‘The Farmer.’ It would therefore have been courteous and correct for the CFU administration at that time to have facilitated open discussion and debate amongst its members before closure of the magazine, allowing an opportunity to mount a concerted rescue operation. The opposite occurred!
The lame excuse given by the Union and Board of Trustees for the weekly magazine’s demise was lack of viability. Due to the advent of Zimbabwe’s farm invasions ‘The Farmer’ was no longer the Union’s ‘cash cow’.
Despite the Union’s Director trying desperately to stop the accessing of its members’ email addresses a sympathetic Head Office staff member surreptitiously supplied them anyway, and a survey was conducted. The resulting feedback showed that the vast majority of CFU members not only agreed to pay for the magazine, but insisted it continue publishing.
A business plan with an accompanying income expenditure analyses showing a reasonable financial surplus was presented to CFU and the magazine’s Board of Trustees. The business plan was never even considered. It was summarily dismissed and shelved, and conveniently ignored by the Union and The Board of Trustees.
So why was there such perverse skulduggery? Why was ‘The Farmer’ with its proud history of serving Zimbabwe’s large scale farming community for over half a century (through wars, pestilence and droughts) silenced?
The simple answer is that neither the Union nor the magazine’s Board of Trustees was able to influence editorial content or compromise its independence. Being too timid to sack the editor it was decided to remove the publication instead.
To add insult to injury the manner of the closure was a shameful example of duplicity and Machiavellian conspiracy between CFU and the Board of Trustees.
To avoid legal obligations of severance pay due to the enforced redundancies of loyal and long serving staff: CFU and The Board of Trustees connived together to present the Trust as the employer, not CFU.
As the Trust had no reserves of capital this meant staff, some with over thirty years on the magazine, would leave with nothing. A letter I received from CFU’s own lawyers clearly stated the employer as CFU.
The CFU and Board of Trustees were forced to back down and the issue was forcefully redressed, albeit harshly with some malevolence and under duress. ‘The Farmer’ was sacrificed on the altar of expediency by those in trusted positions, that were expected and required to display and implement the highest standards of morals, integrity and fortitude.
Alas! The realisation that it is easier to tear down than to build up came too late to save ‘The Farmer.’
Subsequent CFU administrations on two occasions tried unsuccessfully to launch replacement magazines. The publication AgriZim was launched and managed to publish for awhile before disappearing, and afterwards a second attempt at a magazine with European Union funding never even saw the light of day.
As far as I am aware Zimbabwe’s present CFU administration disassociates itself from the above described actions and decisions of its predecessors made back in 2002.
Mike Rook, Former CEO Publications Division, CFU Zimbabwe 1979-2002, Guildford, Surrey, UK