The sugar story -
land reform again
The effects of
the land 'reform' programme as seen on the Triangle sugar estates.
TRIANGLE - The
Lowveld – hot and dry it lies around Triangle, Zimbabwe’s home of sugar. That,
too, is where the Mkwasine Estate is based, jointly owned by Triangle Ltd and
Hippo Valley Estates. Between them the three estates have been producing 1.2
million tonnes annually, 40% of which goes abroad. As long as the dams last,
there will be enough water to keep the sugarcane under constant irrigation,
providing ample supply for domestic and foreign markets. Or so you would have
Take the Mkwasine Estate
as one story that paints a clear, and dismal, picture of the Zanu (PF)
government’s chaotic land reform exercise and its catastrophic effects – though
many would say this is an example of how land was shared out equally and
Mkwasine was developed as one unit, something that would prove
problematic when it came round to redistributing land some 20 years later. Of
Mkwasine’s 18,834 hectares, 7,840 were under irrigation, the rest being grazed
by cattle. National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) used Mkwasine’s private rail line
to ferry the 850,000 tonnes annually to the Hippo Valley and Triangle Estates,
which owned the only two mills in the area.
It was much like a village of
its own. There were 1,141 permanent workers, with another 700 contract workers
for most of the year, all of them provided with concrete housing. In addition,
there were two schools and four clinics, which provided the workers and their
families with basic education and health services.
Mkwasine came up with
its own initiative to settle small-scale indigenous farmers on to the Estate.
From 1981-88 they resettled 191 black farmers on to 2,030 hectares, a largely
successful venture called the Chipiwa Settlement Scheme.
This was a
carefully thought out-programme, with the Land Settlement Board collaborating to
select the resettled farmers. Each new farmer received about 10 hectares, with
Mkwasine providing loans to facilitate the purchases.
ensured that the farmers had the necessary infrastructure and services on their
land. Over the 18 years of close association the resettled farmers increasingly
developed their independence, but still relied on the Estate for irrigation,
haulage, and management assistance.
Thus nearly 200 new farmers were able
to build comfortable residential plots and run their own land.
on until the Land Reform programme brought in a stream of 188 A2 farmers. A2
farm reallocation refers to a large farm being divided up into several smaller
plots. A1 farms are reallocated in their entirety. The Mkwasine Estate was
reduced to 2,000 hectares, though this is still dwindling with new people
bearing resettlement letters arriving every month.
The new resettlement
occurred without consultation with the Estate and simple provisions such as
residential plots were not thought of, as they were in the Chipiwa
The 20 hectare fields are left barely attended half the time,
while the owners live far away due to the lack of accommodation. This is a
significant problem as sugarcane fields demand attention around the year. Unlike
the centralized Chipiwa scheme, the new farmers cannot afford to hold the heavy
machinery necessary to work the land. Production has dropped here from 110
tonnes per hectare to 40 tonnes per hectare. This kind of yield is insufficient
to cover transport and production costs, and to still make a profit, so the
entire affair has stopped being profitable.
Standing back from Mkwasine
Estate’s individual situation, Zimbabwe is experiencing a serious shortfall in
sugar production. This may be attributed to three factors: 1) yields are much
lower than before, 2) NRZ can no longer fulfill transportation requirements, and
3) there are rumours that sugar is being exported illegally.
Mkwasine is left with 42% of its land and its economies of scale, which allowed
it to subsidise the Chipiwa settlers, have fallen away. Farmers now have to meet
their own transportation costs, which have become very significant.
producing 15% of the country’s sugar, Mkwasine Estate has little option but to
lay off 50% of its work force and to stop supporting resettled Chipiwa farmers.
Alternatively, it may have to close down entirely, leaving nearly 2,000 workers
with over 20,000 dependents without a job.
Sugar, it seems, is to suffer
a similar fate to Zimbabwe’s other agriculture assets, namely tobacco, maize,
wheat, beef, dairy, and horticulture.
Cape Town - South Africa would be "most reckless" to send aid
to Zimbabwe, which is "in absolute chaos," said the president of the Southern
African Catholic Bishops' Conference. "Giving money to (Zimbabwe President
Robert) Mugabe can be compared to giving money to an alcoholic beggar who tells
you he has given up drink and will spend the money on food," Cardinal Wilfrid F.
Napier of Durban said in a mid-July telephone interview from Durban. The
cardinal had returned from a two-day trip to Zimbabwe as part of a delegation
with the ecumenical South African Council of Churches. Mugabe is reportedly
seeking a loan from South Africa to pay for electricity, fuel and food to offset
chronic shortages. South Africa is in talks with the Zimbabwean government and
may end up aiding its neighbor financially, South African President Thabo Mbeki
told reporters July 24. Cardinal Napier said Zimbabweans would be better served
through donations to churches and humanitarian aid agencies because Mugabe
probably would squander the funding. "Mugabe has never respected conditions
attached to money lent to his government before, so there is no reason to think
that he would do so this time," the cardinal said. An ongoing campaign of
government-ordered shantytown demolitions has left hundreds of thousands
homeless. The campaign, Operation Drive Out Trash, has been condemned by the
United Nations, numerous countries and church leaders.
"Mugabe wants to destroy all semblance of opposition and aims
to achieve this by bringing people to their knees with himself as the only
person who can help them," the cardinal said. Zimbabwe's government said the
demolitions were carried out to eliminate illegal settlements that had
contributed to a rise in crime in Zimbabwe's deteriorating cities. The
demolitions, which began in May, have left 700,000 Zimbabweans without homes or
jobs, according to a mid-July UN report. The South African Council of Churches
said in its report that the "deliberate destruction of the informal economy,
which is meant to cater to economically vulnerable groups, is unparalleled in
modern-day Africa." Near Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, the council delegation
visited a refugee camp where some 5,000 people were living in "inhuman
conditions." "These people are removed from opportunities to earn a living and
driven to the periphery of society," it said. "A shocking sight greeted the
delegation" when it entered Mbare township, 25 miles southeast of Harare, the
report said. "Almost every yard was filled with rubble from the demolition of
structures." At a Catholic church in the township, the delegation saw long lines
of people waiting to collect monthly food rations, the report said. Cardinal
Napier told Catholic News Service that Mbare "was so full of rubble it looked
like it had been bombed."