The Sunday Times, UK April 02, 2006
Christina Lamb from Harare
Mugabe refuses to seek food aid
THE first time Knowledge Mbanda found a dead baby in the drains
of Harare, he was horrified. "It is completely against our culture to
abandon children," he said. "I thought it must be of a woman who had been
raped or a prostitute."
But now he and fellow council workers find at least 20 corpses
of newborn babies each week, thrown away or even flushed down the lavatories
of Zimbabwe's capital.
The dumping of babies, along with what doctors describe as a
"dramatic" increase in malnourished children in city hospitals, is the most
shocking illustration of the economic collapse of a country that was once
the breadbasket of southern Africa.
Some of the corpses are the result of unwanted pregnancies in a
country experiencing a rise in sexual abuse and prostitution. But others are
newborns dumped by desperate mothers unable to support another child.
Inflation has reached 1,000% and the government's seizure of 95% of
commercial farms has seen food production plummet.
The dead gutter babies are the most pitiful victims of a
government that believes it can starve its people into compliance, or death,
turning Zimbabwe into the only country in the region with a shrinking
So grave is the situation that even the government media have
begun reporting it. "Some of the things that are happening now are
shocking," complained Nomutsa Chideya, Harare's town clerk, to the
state-owned Herald newspaper. "Apart from upsetting the normal flow of
waste, it (baby dumping) is not right from a moral standpoint."
Paediatricians contacted by The Sunday Times in the two main
cities of Harare and Bulawayo said severe child malnutrition had doubled
over the past year and hospital morgues were piled high with bodies people
could not afford to bury.
"Children are dying off like flies," said one surgeon in
Bulawayo who, like most of those interviewed for this article, asked to
remain anonymous for fear of repercussions by President Robert Mugabe's
Nobody knows the exact figures for malnutrition because the
majority of victims cannot afford to reach hospitals. Moreover, according to
the surgeon, the extent of the famine is being masked by the scale of the
Aids epidemic, with more than a quarter of the population HIV-positive.
"Put simply, people are dying of Aids before they can starve to
death," he said.
A study at Harare hospital in 2003-4 showed that 55% of children
admitted were suffering from malnutrition. The problem is believed to have
intensified since last year because of the effects of Operation
Murambatsvina - or Drive Out the Filth - the government campaign to demolish
supposedly illegal structures.
The three-month operation, which began last May, left more than
700,000 people without homes or livelihoods and scrabbling in rubbish dumps
to survive. On top of that, the government's printing of money to appease
the wealthy few has driven inflation higher than anywhere else in the world,
making food harder and harder to afford for the poor.
"All we know is what we see and that is a dramatic increase in
malnourished children," said Greg Powell, a paediatrician from Doctors for
Human Rights and author of a paper entitled Severe Child Malnutrition: An
Unnecessary and Avoidable Crisis.
This paper linked the rise in malnourished children to shortages
caused by the land-grab programme that were compounded by the loss of
livelihoods resulting from Operation Murambatsvina. "Most of the severe
malnutrition is urban-based, which is highly unusual," said Powell.
At a church feeding centre in Bulawayo I met crowds of desperate
people who had spent their last dollars to catch a bus 100 miles into town
in search of food for their children. Most said they had not had a meal of
sadza, the staple maize porridge, for three weeks - some for two months.
"There is no food where we are," said one mother as she looked in
disappointment at the 22lb bag of maize that was all she was given. "Now we
will have to beg the Z$400,000 (£1.14) bus fare back."
"The hunger is like a plague," said Pastor Edwin (not his real name), a
brave priest whose own church was demolished in Operation Murambatsvina and
who has tried to keep track of - and feed - more than 2,000 people who were
dumped in remote areas.
Despite being arrested several times he has persuaded colleagues from other
denominations to form an alliance of 150 pastors, called Churches of
Bulawayo, which helps the victims.
He sneaks me into Killarney, an old squatter settlement that was demolished
last June but to which some families have returned, driven out of rural
areas by the lack of food. The conditions are shocking, with people
clustered in shelters of branches and scrap metal.
Their only protection from the rains are a few plastic sheets that Pastor
Edwin managed to obtain. Children in ragged clothes clamour for food while
women sit around with dulled expressions, chewing seeds. Many have been
affected mentally, according to the priest.
"Whenever I try to sleep, I see my wardrobe being smashed and my house going
up in flames," said one woman. Every few days police come and chase them out
again, but they have nowhere else to go.
"We're losing an average of two people a week here to starvation," said
Pastor Edwin, showing some abandoned shelters where the inhabitants have
died. "Several times I've been called to places urgently, only to find they
have already died of starvation. I see the signs everywhere - the hands and
feet grey like bark."
"The government doesn't care about these people and it has become my problem
because I do," he added. "But it's never ending."
The hunger is so widespread in Zimbabwe that the World Food Programme (WFP)
has increased the numbers on food aid in the country from 1m last July to
4m, more than a third of the population.
Michael Huggins, a spokesman for the WFP in southern Africa, said: "If this
was Niger or Ethiopia you would see dead bodies everywhere. For some reason
Zimbabwe stays afloat and one of those reasons is remittances."
An estimated 3.4m Zimbabweans have fled the country, most to South Africa
but also to the UK and Botswana. And with £1 now equivalent to more than
Z$300,000, the small amounts of hard currency they manage to send back can
sustain their families.
World Vision, one of the agencies that distributes WFP food, has taken to
defining the needy as those who do not have a relation overseas.
"It's grim," added Huggins. "Even if children are not wasting away in front
of your eyes they are chronically hungry."
A mission doctor working in rural Matabeleland agrees. "What we're seeing
throughout Zimbabwe is chronic under-nutrition," he explained. "Children are
much smaller than they should be for their age. A child that you think is a
healthy two-year-old is probably a very underfed four-year old."
Malnutrition is causing carriers of the HIV virus to develop full-blown Aids
far faster, he said. "With proper nutrition and medical care, HIV sufferers
in the West typically take up to 10 years to develop full-blown Aids. For
the starving Zimbabweans, their immune systems are so weakened by
malnutrition that the transition is now a matter of months."
The near collapse of public services means that even those who manage to get
to hospitals receive little help. Of 1.5m Zimbabweans registered as
HIV-positive, only 6,000 are thought to be receiving drugs.
At Mpilo hospital in Bulawayo, nurses told me they had shortages of
dressings and drips, no gloves or hand-wash solution, no drugs to treat
tuberculosis and no antibiotics. "The situation is bloody awful," said a
surgeon from Bulawayo United Hospitals.
"There are shortages of everything. We have no insulin so cannot treat
diabetic patients. You get to theatre and are told there are no clean sheets
because the government has not paid the laundry bill. For months we could
not do x-rays.
"There's no saline for drips, because it was used for washing as there was
no sterile hand wash. It's desperate. Quite a number of us are thinking
about giving up. Yet when I came here 20 years ago, this health service was
one of the best on the continent."
So many doctors have gone overseas that the surgeon is working with one
house officer instead of eight and the hospital almost had to close down
casualty altogether because it had no staff.
Yet an aid agency in Harare recently had to incinerate hundreds of thousands
of pounds worth of American drugs, including expensive antibiotics, because
they were not registered in Zimbabwe.
Bodies are piling up in hospital morgues because burial in city cemeteries
is becoming a preserve of the rich. A grave plot at the downmarket Granville
cemetery in Harare costs Z$8.5m (£24) during weekdays and Z$15m (£42) at
weekends - more than three times the monthly income.
With frequent power cuts leading to rapid decomposition, Harare hospitals
have begun employing a company called Sunrise to take bodies away twice a
week for a pauper's burial, in which as many as 15 at a time are consigned
to a ditch.
The government refuses to admit that its people are suffering. For months it
even refused to let the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) start the
Back to School feeding programme it runs throughout the world. In the end
Unicef had to rename it Be in School as the government would not admit that
any children were ever taken out of school. Spiralling school fees have
forced many parents to withdraw their children from education.
In Mbare, the Harare suburb that was left largely in rubble by Operation
Murambatsvina, a single mother called Irene tearfully told me she had been
arrested twice in the past month for selling sadza on the streets to earn
money so that her two sons could go to school.
"The police took my pot, fined me and held me three days," she said as she
showed me the waist-high dwelling she has fashioned from scraps of iron.
"They've turned us into beggars."
Irene, like many others, survives on food handed out by Tracy, a plucky
church volunteer, and two other brightly dressed women. She calls them her
"tsunami team" - many Zimbabweans refer to Operation Murambatsvina as the
African tsunami. Everywhere Tracy and her tsunami team go, people call: "We're
hungry, hungry, help us!"
In one shack, Tracy shows me a family of 38 crammed into three tiny rooms
after five others they had built were all bulldozed. The tin bowl of watery
porridge the children were sharing was the only meal they would get.
After a damning UN report on Operation Murambatsvina - which Mugabe
described as "an urban beautification programme" - the government announced
Operation Garakai to build new houses. But not one person contacted by The
Sunday Times, from aid agencies to diplomats, knew of a single victim who
has been rehoused by the government.
The few houses that have been built have gone to officials of the ruling
"It was criminal and murderous, what they did to the people," said Pius
Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo. "I can never forgive them.
If that man (Mugabe) dies tomorrow, I don't see myself going to his
Although good rains have raised expectations that next month's harvest will
be better than last year's, officials say it will still be way below the
According to Africa's food security early warning system, Zimbabwe will
harvest only 600,000 tons of maize this season. The country consumes an
annual average of 1.8m tons, leaving it the highest cereal deficit in
Zimbabwe will also have to import 200,000 tons of wheat, 40,000 tons of
sorghum and 6,000 tons of rice to avert widespread deaths related to
The government has no money to pay for this and Mugabe has consistently
refused to appeal for food aid. To do so would mean admitting the failure of
his land distribution programme. Some believe the WFP should stop plugging
the gap as this has the side effect of sustaining the regime.
"The world must differentiate between the politics and the people of
Zimbabwe," responds James Elder, Unicef's spokesman in Zimbabwe.
"During any given hour today, three Zimbabweans under the age of 15 will
become infected with HIV-Aids; another three children will die of
Aids-related deaths. Same again an hour later. Meanwhile, too many children
remain severely malnourished.
"It doesn't need to be this way. The people of Zimbabwe need more than the
world's outrage; they need the world's support."
Additional reporting: Flora Bagenal
By DONNA BRYSON, Associated Press Writer Sat Apr 1, 3:00 PM ET
DAKAR, Senegal - A former Chadian military leader accused in the deaths and
torture of thousands of opponents lives in this pleasant, seaside capital.
An infamous Ethiopian dictator has a haven in Zimbabwe. Uganda's Idi Amin,
perhaps the most notorious of all, died peacefully in his place of refuge,
When Africans play "Where are they now?" the answer is rarely "facing
justice." But that may be changing.
Hopes have been raised by the case of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian
president accused of greed and savagery extraordinary even for a continent
that has known some of the worst tyrants of modern times. He was extradited
Wednesday to face crimes against humanity charges at a U.N.-supported
Special Court for his role in fomenting civil wars in Sierra Leone.
Taylor's case warns African leaders to "be very careful how they are
governing their people," said Sierra Leonean civil rights activist Abdul
Taylor fled to Nigeria in 2003 as part of a deal to end the civil war in
Liberia, which he had financed with his trafficking in Sierra Leone's
diamonds. Last week Nigeria, under pressure from the U.S. and others, said
it would hand him over to the U.N. court. He tried to flee and was
recaptured early Wednesday, reportedly with two 110-pound sacks of dollars
The arrest set the precedent that leaders accused of atrocities "must be
judged," said Ismail Hachim, head of a Chadian group working to put their
former dictator, Hissene Habre, on trial in Belgium.
Belgium, whose laws empower it to try crimes against humanity wherever they
are committed, issued an international arrest warrant for Habre last year,
though his Senegalese hosts have resisted pressure to extradite him to
Habre was ousted by rebels and fled in 1990. Two years later a commission in
Chad accused his regime of 40,000 political killings and 200,000 cases of
As democracy spreads in a continent that used to be a Cold War battlefield,
it's getting harder to run a dictatorship.
Nigeria's Olesegun Obasanjo, a former military dictator, is now an elected
president who portrays himself as a democrat who respects human rights.
Liberia has Africa's first woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former
World Bank technocrat who took office in January pledging reform. Sierra
Leone has an elected government.
"The chances each day are greater that if you commit atrocities, you will be
brought to book," said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch.
Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga last month became the first suspect to
stand before the new International Criminal Court in
The Hague, Netherlands. He was charged with war crimes, including recruiting
child soldiers. And Jean Kambanda, prime minister of Rwanda at the beginning
of that country's 1994 bloodbath, pleaded guilty to genocide before a U.N.
tribunal and was jailed for life.
But some of the most notorious have evaded court. The colonial past colors
some African attitudes to the West's prescriptions for good governance, and
dictators stand together, fearing they could be next to go on trial.
Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia is blamed for the killing of hundreds of
students, intellectuals and politicians during the "Red Terror" against
supposed enemies of his Soviet-backed military dictatorship. He fled a
rebellion in 1991 and was taken in by the authoritarian regime of Zimbabwe's
President Robert Mugabe. His army had helped train Mugabe's guerrillas in
their struggle for independence from white rule.
Mengistu was charged in Ethiopia with crimes against humanity, but Zimbabwe
refused to extradite him.
Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia's then-president, cited shared history as
anti-colonialists when he granted refuge to Uganda's Milton Obote. Obote had
come to power by ousting Amin, and is himself blamed by the current Ugandan
current government for more than 500,000 deaths from his urbanization
policies in the early 1980s.
Then there's Sudan's Darfur region, which the
United Nations has described as the world's gravest humanitarian crisis.
Along with tens of thousands of dead, more than 2 million people have been
displaced by fighting between ethnic African tribes and the Arab-dominated
government and militias it backs.
Some analysts think the refusal by Sudan's leaders to let U.N. peacekeepers
into Darfur stems in part from fear they will be pursued for war crimes.
Associated Press correspondents Angus Shaw in Zimbabwe and Clarence Roy
Macauley in Sierra Leone contributed to this report.
Sunday News, Zimbabwe
By Siphiwe Ncube
THE Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) is yet to print Ordinary
Level certificates for November 2004 as it is failing to raise foreign
currency to buy stationery from the United Kingdom, it has been learnt.
Candidates who sat O-Level examinations almost two years ago are yet to
receive their certificates.
The delay has inconvenienced thousands of school-leavers who are failing to
prove to potential employers and tertiary colleges that they indeed passed
ZIMSEC director Mr Happy Ndanga confirmed to the Sunday News on Friday that
there has been a delay in printing the certificates due to foreign currency
"The certificates stationery is imported from the UK. Foreign currency
constraints are the cause of the delays," he said.
The O-Level certificates are usually available for collection a few months
after the distribution of results.
Mr Ndanga said the 2004 certificates are now expected to be released before
the end of this month. However, he would not be drawn into disclosing how
much foreign currency was needed to procure the special printing paper from
"ZIMSEC has just released the A-Level certificates for the examination
sitting of November 2004 and the release of the O-Level certificates is
expected to commence before the end of April 2006," he said.
The ZIMSEC director said the certificates take about two months to be
processed before they were disbursed to different examination centres.
"It takes about two months to print, carry out a quality check and
distribute certificates of one examination sitting, if the certificate
printing does not coincide with major activity such as the processing of
examination certificates," he said.
The localisation of secondary school examinations was completed in 1999, a
move that was set to save the country of millions of dollars in foreign
currency which used to be paid to the University of Cambridge examinations
board as fees.
ZIMSEC imports the paper for printing certificates from the UK. Some
examination papers are printed in South Africa.
The Sunday Times, UK April 02, 2006
Christina Lamb Harare
A DARING group of some of Zimbabwe's leading actors and theatre
directors has produced a play telling President Robert Mugabe it is time to
step down, and will tour the country with it this month. The members say
they are fed up with waiting for politicians to remove him.
Pregnant with Emotion is about a child who refuses to be born
until there is a change of leadership in his country. Although Mugabe is not
named, there is no doubt about the real identity of the 82-year-old dictator
oppressing his people.
"It's very critical of the regime and for the first time comes
up with a solution," said Daves Guzha, the director. "I think you reach a
stage where you say to yourself, 'Either I must stand up or forever be quiet'.
I felt that as Zimbabweans we've just become accepting of the situation, the
food and fuel shortages, power cuts and inflation."
The play tells the story of Marwei, who is 13 months pregnant,
and her child - symbolising Zimbabwe's future - who refuses to leave the
womb. The father Noah is a civil servant and an avid supporter of the ruling
But Noah loses his job and the family is evicted from its home
in Operation Murambatsvina (Drive Out the Filth), the government's slum
"What kind of father kicks the children out of the house in the
middle of a cold night?" asks a poet as the couple huddle asleep on the
The play had a fortnight's run in Harare last month, playing to
enthusiastic audiences as well as a group of secret police who came five
days running. "We knew who they were and directed all the anger towards
them," said Guzha.
The state media have referred to Guzha and the play as "the axis
of evil". He has been warned by the secret police not to go on.
The last such attempt at political satire, a 2004 production
called Superpatriots and Morons, was banned by the regime. Pregnant with
Emotion is by the same authors.
But Guzha's team refuses to be deterred. In 10 days' time the
production will start touring the country.
The play comes at a time of tremendous disillusion in the
country not just with Mugabe's party, which has led almost half the
population to the verge of starvation, but also the opposition. The Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC) has split into two factions, each claiming the
other has been infiltrated by Zanu-PF. Although Morgan Tsvangirai, the
founding MDC leader, recently announced a plan of mass mobilisation, few
believe it will happen.
Within Zanu-PF, a bitter struggle is under way over the
succession to Mugabe, who celebrates 26 years in power later this month. On
both sides there is a sense that everyone is waiting for him to die.
"The focus of the play is not Mugabe, but succession," said
Sunday, April 02 2006 @ 12:06 AM BST
Contributed by: correspondent
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leadership
says it is shaken by death threats issued by President Robert Mugabe on
Friday against party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, but vowed to continue
protesting against the "geriatrics' misrule. The MDC leadership, which
descended on Mkoba Stadium in Gweru yesterday for a rally attended by a
record 12 000 people, reaffirmed its earlier mass confrontation resolution
against Mugabe, charging it was unperturbed by the 82 year-old despot's
elimination threats against the charismatic MDC leader.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told Zimdaily: "Clearly Mugabe
shows that he has run out if ideas. Instead of proffering solutions to the
crisis in the country, he chooses to once again threaten sons and daughters
fighting for democracy. The MDC leadership is shaken by this geriatric
convulsion. We are very clear about the challenges we face.
Mugabe is the past. We represent the future. The MDC shall not
allow Mugabe to deprive Zimbabwe of a better future and massacre posterity.
So many people have died. We are prepared to pay the ultimate price. MDC has
been subjected to incessant harassment. It is the hallmark of this
Addressing a timid hired crowd at the burial of his top
bodyguard Winston Changara who died on Monday under circumstances suspected
to involve foul play, Mugabe said he would crush any attempts by the MDC to
force him out of office. Speaking in his vernacular Zezuru language, Mugabe
mocked Tsvangirai as a coward who deserted the country's independence war in
the 1970s, but was now posing as a patriot in a country struggling with a
severe economic crisis. "Vamwe vaguta nyemba. Hanzi tinoitora nemasimba.
Muri vanaani? Zvitaunhau.
Mazunguzurwa. Vamwe vanoti tavakuzoenda mumigwagwa
todemonstrater. Nhai Tsvangirai magutiroiko iwawo? Handizvo, hamufi
makazviita. Idyai sadza muti tonho. Kana munhu avakuda kutsvaga mafiro
ngaazvisesekedze nemutoo iwowo. (Who do you think you are threatening? Who
do you think will be moved by your threats?These threats, that if we won't
leave office you are going to remove us through violence - Aaah, this man!
Does he know our history, does he know our record? Don't dice with death in
that manner)," Mugabe warned. "It will never happen. We won't allow it."
But in a show of defiance Tsvangirai told a cheering audience in
Gweru yesterday that Mugabe's rule was coming to an end and vowed to
mobilise Zimbabweans in a popular revolt against Mugabe despite any threats.
"Chatinoda kuudza baba Chatunga ndechekuti makonewa basa uye mava harahwa,
chiendai kumusha. (Want we want to tell Mugabe is that you have failed to
placate Zimbabwe from this crisis and you are too old) We will not be
derailed from our course by any form of threats ," Tsvangirai said in a
fiery speech to a cheering Gweru audience.
Tsvangirai, told a histioric party congress a fortnight ago
where he was relected president unopposed that "the dictator must brace
himself for a long, bustling winter across the country." The former trade
union leader called on more than 15 000 supporters to take part in a
"sustained cold season of peaceful democratic resistance." Zimbabwe is in
crisis with soaring uynemployment and shortages of fuel, foreign exchange
and food, which many Zimbabweans blame on Mugabe's policies. Mugabe denies
mismanaging Zimbabwe since winning power after the country's independence
from Britain in 1980.
He has also defended the government's seizure of white-owned
commercial farms for redistribution to landless blacks, which critics say is
partly to blame for food shortages affecting nearly three million of
Zimbabwe's 12,5 million people.
Sunday News, Zimbabwe
Sunday News Reporter
THE shortage of anti-tick chemicals used for dipping livestock remains
critical in Matabeleland North province as it emerged last week that the
province has not yet received its allocation for February.
Speaking to the Sunday News in a telephone interview on Wednesday, Dr Pollex
Moyo, the provincial head of the Department of Veterinary Service, said the
province had not received the February consignment.
"Matabeleland North did not receive the February consignment and we have
been dipping cattle once fortnightly instead of dipping them once every
week," said Dr Moyo.
The shortage of dipping chemicals persists as the major supplier, Chemplex
Animal and Public Health, is reportedly facing a serious shortage of foreign
currency needed to import the active ingredient, amitraz.
The product is mainly imported from China.
Cattle are supposed to be dipped once every week during the rainy season.
However, Dr Moyo said they had resorted to dipping the cattle once
The shortage of dipping chemicals has seen an outbreak of a tick-borne
disease called theileriosis which has killed 13 cattle in the Monde area of
Hwange district and more cattle are likely to succumb to the disease if
farmers fail to dip their cattle once every week.
The national Chief Veterinary Officer for Disease Control, Mr Chenjerai
Njagu, confirmed the shortage, adding that they have received nine tonnes of
chemicals to distribute to the whole country for March.
The Minister of Agriculture, Dr Joseph Made, said the shortage of the
chemical was a major challenge across the whole country, adding that the
resources were imported and that the foreign currency comes from Reserve
Bank of Zimbabwe only.
"I am aware that the dip supplies are low and we appreciate the RBZ efforts
to supply with the required forex. It is the rainy season and dip tanks need
to be protected while in some areas there is no dip that has been
delivered," said Dr Made.
The Sunday Times. UK April 02, 2006
It's not the Somme, it's South Africa - and a memorial to nearly
2,000 white farmers murdered in the last 10 years. The motive? Not theft,
nor land grab, as in Zimbabwe - but revenge, fuelled by racism and envy. And
as the killing goes on, the police do nothing. Brian Moynahan reports
The N1 is South Africa's grand trunk road. It runs north from
Cape Town and the Paarl vineyards, clean across the country, past the
flyovers and interchanges of Johannesburg and Pretoria, until it ends at
Beitbridge, the border crossing on the Limpopo.
Here, a darker Africa begins: Robert Mugabe's ruined Zimbabwe,
the towns squalid and shattered, the countryside desolate and overgrown.
Many of its famished and tattered blacks seek to escape at Beitbridge,
swimming the river, or paying the waiting omalume, "uncles", the people
traffickers, to smuggle them past the border patrols to a new life in South
For almost all of its 1,200 miles of polished tarmac and plump
service stations, the N1 offers evidence that post-apartheid South Africa
has avoided the bloodshed and collapse that have haunted its neighbours. In
a continent awash with troubles, its prosperity and stability draw not just
illegals from across the Limpopo, but even French-speakers from Niger and
the distant Sahara.
A tiny half-mile section of the N1, though, past Mokopane in
Limpopo Province, chills the heart. It is overlooked by a large white cross
that lies on a green hillside. Look closer, and the cross is seen to be made
up of scores of small white crosses planted in neat lines. And then the eye
is drawn to what seem to be bursts of snowdrops on the kopjes, the two small
hills that lie on each side of the cross. These, too, are little white
crosses, swirling on the slope.
The Afrikaners, the native whites of South Africa, have a flair
for setting monuments to their rugged history in such sweeps of landscape.
The crosses are their handiwork - or, more specifically, that of the "Boers",
or "farmers". They seem to commemorate some distant epic, a trek with ox
wagons, a battle with Zulus or the British.
But Mokopane is not to do with the past. The word "Plaasmoorde"
is hand-lettered on the slope. It means "farm murders". Over 1,700 of South
Africa's commercial farmers and their families, mostly white and Afrikaans,
but including a substantial number of English speakers, have been killed
since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The ages of the victims vary - from infants to people in their
eighties. The attackers usually operate in gangs of three to eight. Extreme
violence, including rape, torture and physical mutilation, is often
involved. Sometimes nothing is stolen, leading to claims that the attackers
are motivated by racism and a desire for revenge.
Mokopane, then, deals with the present, and, in the most brutal
way, with a future in which the rural Boers, for more than 300 years the
white tribe of Africa, fear they face extinction.
The world has more than an inkling of what has happened in
Zimbabwe. Over the past six years, to the accompaniment of farm invasions,
beatings, livestock maiming and now mass hunger, Mugabe has seized more than
nine-tenths of his country's white-owned commercial farms. He is about to
complete the ethnic cleansing of rural Zimbabwe.
What is happening in South Africa is less known and is, in most
respects, different. In Zimbabwe it is government policy, instigated by the
president, and seen through by party thugs. South Africa, in which the bulk
of commercial farmland remains in white hands, has model policies of land
restitution and reform - validation by land claims courts, compensation at
market value, incentives for black empowerment and land ownership - whose
principles are accepted by most landowners.
The process of restitution is intended to be scrupulously fair,
untouched by the rancour that built up over the long years of baaskap, white
supremacy. Whites moved from areas designated as black "homelands" by the
apartheid regime are entitled to claim on the same basis as displaced
blacks, though the latter- are far more numerous. Valuations are by
independent assessors. Progress has been slow, though the white farmers have
little reason to complain. A decade after apartheid, less than 5% of
commercial farmland is in black hands, though the government has set a
target of redistributing 30% of white-owned land to blacks by 2014.
For all the legislation and goodwill, there is horror. Zimbabwe's
white farmers were expelled, and uncompensated. Very few were murdered.
It is true, sadly, that South Africa suffers from a general
epidemic of violence, and farmers cannot expect to be immune in a country
where 18,793 people were murdered in the year to March 2005, the great
majority of them urban blacks.
But the farmers' numbers are small, and their vulnerability
high: 10 times higher than for the population at large, or so it is claimed,
making them the most at-risk profession in the non-military world. Go to the
farmlands, and it shows.
The last town on the N1 before Musina and the Zimbabwe border is
Makhado. It was named, until recently, after Louis Trichardt, the Boer
Voortrekker, who reached the foot of the Soutpansberg mountains here in
1836, on his way north to escape the British at the Cape.Tollbooths mark the
approach of the town. A gravel road leads from the tarmac. After some
distance, a gate and a long rutted track mark the entrance to a farm set
well back from the road.
It is owned by Ernest Breytenbach. He has 120 cattle on 5,700
acres, with a simple house built round an Aga brought in by wagon in the
His father, André, was killed when he got out of his "bakkie"
(pick-up truck) at the gate in August 1998. It was a bad month on the farms:
66 people were murdered - four of them set on fire. In another attack, the
farmer had been bound and beaten, but nothing was taken from the house and
his firearm was still on the wardrobe.
"They were waiting for my dad to get back from dropping off his
workers," Breytenbach says. "He was shot in the stomach. They made off with
his bakkie and dumped him. When we found him, they'd taken the spotlights
off the bakkie. They put them by his face, like eyes, and they put the
licence plates at his head and his feet. I don't know why they did it. Maybe
it was to say, 'Look what we did,' to get on the front page."
Breytenbach blames the ruling ANC, President Thabo Mbeki's
African National Congress, for continuing incidents on the farm. "I see
people hunting with dogs or collecting firewood on my land," he says. "I ask
my people if they know them. It's always 'No' because they have to answer to
them. I have a lot of game theft. They make snares from my fence wire. I
think it's ANC intimidation. They want us out."
His father was the first to be murdered at Louis Trichardt. Many
attacks have followed. Werner and Brigitte Wiedeck live close by, in a
pin-neat house with garden gnomes in the conservatory and doilies on the
armchairs. They have been robbed eight times in three years. Twice they were
beaten. The worst was last April.
"They put a gun to my husband's head and tied him up, and gagged
me with a scarf," says Brigitte. "Then they started beating me with a steel
pole. They already had all our money, but they kept demanding more. I was
choking on my own blood. I feigned dead and they went.
"I got free and I cut Werner loose. I was very lucky. The
doctors were fighting for three days for my life. I had serious skull
fractures. I needed nine steel plates. I lost my right eye." The police, she
says, took two hours to drive the few miles from town. "No one checked for
bullets, for fingerprints, for tracks in the bush. They did more or less
Dolores de Agrella runs Adam's Apple, a roadside inn on the way
into town. "There was a whole spate of attacks in June 2004," she says. "We
were robbed twice: videos, TVs, even a pot of oxtail I was making for Father's
Day lunch. We were cleaned out, so I thought we were safe. One evening, the
dog barked, and a figure appeared in my room. He pulled my jaw down and put
a gun in my mouth, and pulled the trigger. Without a word. Just like that.
But it didn't go off. Then he started trying to pull me down. I started
kicking and screaming and grappling with him. He was a puny little thing. As
fast as he'd arrived, he was gone. I'm only alive because he had the wrong
calibre bullet in the gun." The aftermath, she says, was terrible. "The pit
of my stomach was churning and churning. My life-saver was a pepper spray. I'd
sit clutching it the whole time like a TV remote.
"If we got a good offer, I'd be straight off. It's harder for
the Afrikaners, though. This is their heritage. Their fathers and
grandfathers were born on their farms. It's different for them."
One of those is Celia Guillaume. She was the first woman in
Africa to become a licensed big-game hunter. She has ranged across southern
Africa in her bakkie, an independent and once fearless soul who grew up with
the locals. She built a house on her father's land, looking out across the
Soutpansberg, green and alpine in the rain, with thatched rondavels
(circular buildings) in a miniature village she built for conferences.
She grows flowers and nuts on her 500 acres, and has a seed
export business. "I was 100% self-sufficient," she says. "I grew maize and
coffee, soya beans, chickens, butter, milk. I shot a bushbuck every month. I
loved it. I didn't mind being alone. Now, I won't come here on my own. I don't
like being here at night, even if I have people staying."
Her four attackers came one morning last year. "I'm sure it was
an inside job," she says. "I was packed to go to Zambia the next day, and I
had a lot of foreign currency. They knew I was alone. They hit me with guns,
and stripped me, and tied me up and gagged me. They had everything they
wanted right away. Everything in my safe, my guns, everything with a plug on
it - TV, stereo - all my CDs, the keys to my bakkie. But they stayed on for
hours. I thought they were going to kill me. My father comes up to see me at
5pm every evening, and I thought, 'Please, God, don't let Daddy find me dead
like this.' Then they went off in the bakkie, and I managed to free myself.
But it's still there. They f*** up your future, and they also steal your
She has no confidence in the police. "We can't depend on them,"
she says. "The farmers were here first. They washed my blood, they found my
bakkie. When the police finally came, they fingerprinted everything, videoed
it, took still pictures - and all of it has disappeared.
"We knew who'd done it soon enough. Local people know. They came
from 40 kilometres away. They were caught with my personal possessions on
them and in their homes. The dossier was opened for attempted murder and
armed robbery. But because it all went missing, they were charged with
possession of stolen property and got a slap on the wrist. They're already
out. If I did pursue it, they might kill me next time. They've rung me to
say, 'We know you haven't got a gun now, we had six months inside because of
you, we're going to get you.'"
Mimie du Toit runs a game farm that caters for hunters, mainly
Scandinavian and Spanish. Her husband was killed when the steering column on
his vehicle broke on a hunting trip. Her father, Ben Keyter, farmed cattle
30 miles away. He was murdered in January 2005.
"They asked my mom for water," she says. "She opened the door
and they pushed in. Two of them pulled my dad outside. They made my mom
watch while they killed him with a spade. They said, 'Look, you can't help
him.' Then they hit my mom very bad. She had blood all on one side, and they
threw the deepfreeze on top of her and left her for dead. Then she got a
stroke. Now she's in Pretoria for speech therapy." Her father was 79. He was
killed for his cell phone and his 780 rand (£70) monthly pension. Three
arrests were made. "It was the farmers who got them," she says. "The police
Her father's farm has to go. "I'm busy selling it,"
she says. "I have to, to pay for my mom's treatment. But I'm going to stay
here. I don't have an electric fence. I trust in the Lord. He will help me.
"I was very bitter at first. That passed with losing my husband. I realised
it doesn't matter how you die. And I have my three children. "But I will say
this: if I killed one of them, you'd hear it all over the world. But if they
kill my dad, no one hears anything, not even here."
There are other stories, one after another. Herman
de Jager's father, Pieter, was shot as years of work came to fruition. The
family had cleared the bush from their land, by hand and tractor, and
planted 7,800 macadamia nut trees - Pieter de Jager had hand-grafted each
"That morning, we finished the drip irrigation
system," de Jager says. "We said, 'Now we're ready to farm.' I was away from
the house. My mother got me on the cell, she said it's a farm attack. I
found my father under a tree. He died in my arms."
Billy Meyer, a small-scale farmer, was shot dead
through the head at 7.30pm on a Saturday as he sat in his house with his
baby. Farmers tracked his killers for 60 kilometres towards the border with
Zimbabwe but did not catch them. His near neighbours Gillie and Sophia Fick
have a prosperous spread of 17,000 acres. "It's only God's will that we're
still here," they say. At 5.45am, Gillie got into his bakkie to drive out to
the fields. There were four attackers. Two of them pointed guns at his head.
They pulled him out
of the truck and forced him to the ground.
Then they started breaking in the windows and
burglar bars with a pickaxe.
"I heard the glass go," says Sophia. "I took my
pistol and fired three shots out through the curtains. I wasn't worried for
my husband. I thought he was already dead. Then I pushed the panic alarm.
The siren went off. They fired some shots and drove off in our bakkie. They
dumped it at the tarmac road, where they had cars waiting."
"The farmers put up a roadblock and caught some of
them," says Gillie. "We got a helicopter from friends and we spotted another
in thick bush and caught him. The police were hopeless. They didn't even
take fingerprints from my bakkie, though the four of them were in it."
Their farmhouse, like others, is surrounded by a
high electric fence. "But there's no way you can stop them," Gillie says.
"They dug a hole under it. They use aerosol cooking oil or fly killer to
deal with the dogs. They smash burglar bars. I've put concrete foundations
round the fence. Next time, they're going to have to dig a deeper hole."
"Kill the farmer! Kill the Boer!" was a slogan of
ANC guerrillas in apartheid days. A presidential commission into the attacks
examined claims that the ANC remains involved, and that the assaults are
part of a deliberate campaign. No evidence has been found. No pattern has
Some attackers are locals. Some are Zimbabwean. Some
drive 200 miles to the farms from the Jo'burg townships. Some are revenge
attacks by disaffected employees. Some are motivated by money - attacks the
night before payday, when there is cash in the farmhouse. In others,
valuables are ignored and nothing is taken. The government is manifestly
innocent - of inspiring the attacks, but ministers are more open to charges
of neglect. South Africa is a mining and industrial giant.
It is the wealthiest country in Africa. Agriculture
accounts for only 3.4% of the economy, though it employs 30% of the labour
force. That makes it easier to ignore. The Cape winelands and golf courses,
the Garden Route along the coast to Durban, the Kruger national park - the
tourist gems that attract visitors by the thousands - are tucked away from
the worst areas of violence.
"Rural insecurity gets swept under the carpet," says
Chris van Zyl, who is responsible for security in the TAU (Transvaal
Agriculture Union). "It's stock theft and livestock maiming, too, and
harvest theft, fields stripped of maize, orchards of fruit. As a career,
farming is blighted. When a farmer dies, the chances are there's no family
member willing to take over the farm."
His colleague Gideon Meining, a farmer, is a case in
point. His one son is a businessman. The other is in London, one of as many
as 1.4m South Africans thought to be living in Britain.
Black as well as white farmers are targeted. "We've
black members who've lost so much cattle and sheep, they say they can't
continue with livestock," says Kobus Visser, spokesman for another big
farmers' union. "But they have less chance of being murdered."
The record of livestock thefts from April to
September 2005 show that 30,000 cattle and 49,000 sheep were stolen. In the
same period, the Krugersdorp rural area reported 29 farm attacks, eight
murders, six farmers shot, 22 beaten and one raped, 45 break-ins and 12
"We recorded 97 farm attacks in this small area last
year, with 14 murders," says Trevor Roberts, who runs the private Conserv
security services near Muldersdrift, just northwest of Jo'burg. "This year
is worse. We've had 28 attacks in less than two months, with three murders.
If it was all criminality, they'd do it when people are away," Roberts says.
"But they don't. They wait for people to come home, and sometimes they
torture them and kill them."
The attackers who shot Peter Binggeli, one of
Roberts's clients, on his farm, waited until the family was home at 11:30pm.
Binggeli was shot three times and beaten with an iron bar. He owes his life
to his wife. She ran into the bush. The attackers failed to find her and
fled, fearing she had called for help. Eiderdowns stolen from a wendy house
on the farm were found behind rocks. It was clear the attackers had lain
there for days observing the Binggelis before they struck.
The elderly are often targeted. Nearby, Paul Hart
grew up on the farm where his parents, John and Sylvia, lived for 43 years.
It is called Swing-gate Farm after a lane in Berkhamsted. "Mum and Dad came
out from Hertfordshire in 1949. Dad had £46. This place was bare veld."
The house they built is thatched, the gardens shaded
by the trees they planted. A finely restored Jaguar XK140 and a yellow
E-type in the garage hint at John Hart's business. "Dad was a mechanical
engineer," says Hart. "Mum was the farmer - rabbits, asparagus, Jersey
cattle, market gardening and dairy. We children would help pack the food to
take off to market. They didn't want to retire to the city. They wanted to
stay here. Dad was 88 and Mum was 83. But they were still -fit. Dad swam
every day. He restored his cars. He was a perfectionist. He played golf and
classical guitar. He took precautions."
A high electric fence runs round the house and
gardens. John Hart checked it every day at 5pm. The windows and doors are
guarded by thick burglar bars. He had a .38 revolver.
At some time between 12.30 and 2.30pm on November 18
last year, he was outside the fence by the cattle sheds when he was battered
to death. Sylvia was in the house. The gate in the fence was opened, and the
attackers got into the house. They seem to have first beaten her for the key
to the upstairs safe. Then, although by now they had John Hart's .38, they
beat her to death with one of her husband's golf clubs.
Africa had been kind to the Harts. "Not long before
they died, Mum gave Dad a big kiss," says Hart's sister, Lesley. "And she
said, 'Thank you for bringing me to Africa. I've had a marvellous life.'"
Her brother says he understands the motives for robbery. "When there's no
work, a man has to feed his family," he says. "We're soft targets. Close to
town, near highways, nice open farmland, fairly well off. I can accept the
crime. But not the violence that goes with it. They had the key to the safe.
They had a revolver. Why bludgeon an 83-year-old lady to death? I don't
think robbery was the main motive. The gardener hasn't been since before the
murder. Something Dad said upset him. I think this was a revenge attack."
The police, he says, are hopelessly under-resourced.
"The local police station is only three kilometres away, but it's two-thirds
under strength in manpower. It has so few vehicles that sometimes policemen
have to use their own."
He has put the farm on the market. He and his sister
only visit now with their private security guard, Godknows Malulaka, and his
shotgun. Though they are still British citizens, like other victims, the
British government has shown little interest in their fate.
President Mbeki has said that whites have a
"psychosis" of "fear about their survival in a sea of black savages". He has
said, remarkably, that they are "addicted" to their fear. Farmers blame
government indifference. "Protection isn't improving," says van Zyl. "It's
"We had our commandos, authorised volunteers who'd
served in the army, in country districts," says Meining. "They gave real
security. But the government has disbanded most of them, so we try to look
after ourselves with Farm Watch, our own self-defence groups."
Police are short of manpower and training.
Accusations of incompetence - failing to fingerprint, to take blood samples,
basic police skills - are widespread. Kiewiet Ferreira, of the Agri SA
farmers' union, spoke last month of the "helplessness and frustration" among
farmers, black and white, at the "apparent unwillingness and ignorance" of
some police officers.
"It's common knowledge among prosecutors and the
public that cases are not properly investigated," says Reino Mostert,
control prosecutor at Makhado. "Experts should be first at a murder scene.
They're not. The local uniformed men get there and wander round, and the
evidence deteriorates. The unnecessary violence is what worries me. I've
discussed this with fellow prosecutors, and I can tell you, there are no
attacks like this on black farmers. I know these people who've been killed.
Like Ben Keyter, a lovely old man, defenceless, killed like a dog."
It is, of course, to South Africa's credit that it
has become more difficult to get a conviction. In apartheid days,
confessions were wrung from suspects easily enough. But Mostert himself
knows the near-collapse of law and order. "I was woken up by breaking glass
at 4am," he says.
"I shouted, 'Get me my pistol - I'm going to kill
them.' I hoped that would see them off. But it didn't. They got in and they
were taking the DVD and TV by the time I'd got a rifle. I had my wife and
kids there. I swear I'd have shot them dead. But then they made off. I fired
some shots after them."
The prosecutor, it should be added, lives across the
street from the courthouse and police station. Makhado boasts a
high-security prison too - the most modern in the country. It houses 3,800
hardened criminals. The prison choir performed with Jo'burg's symphony
orchestra in February. It says much for the new South Africa.
So, alas, does what followed last month. The wardens
went on strike. The inmates rioted and set one of the blocks on fire. No
police or troops were at hand to secure the perimeter. The prison
authorities asked Farm Watch for help. As flames and smoke drifted across
the night, every 20 yards a bakkie was drawn up at the wire, and a Boer,
unmistakable in rugger shorts and a khaki shirt, stood guard until the army
Zimbabwe's cull of farmers can be repeated by
default, as well as by design. There are signs of growing haste and
impatience in land reform. New possibilities of legalised expropriation were
opened on March 1. The deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, spoke at a
recent conference in Pretoria. "We've got lessons to learn from Zimbabwe,"
she said. "How to do it fast. We need a bit of oomph. So, we might want some
skills exchange between us and Zimbabwe." The remark was made with a smile,
it was reported, and "to muted laughter".
The farmers in her audience might be forgiven for
not getting the joke.