Land reform ghosts linger on - Zimbabwe Situation

Land reform ghosts linger on

via Land reform ghosts linger on March 7, 2014  By Elias Mambo

DILAPIDATED buildings of what were once workshops and storage units give the impression one has arrived at some site where artefacts, remnants of machinery and irrigation pipes were left in situ to preserve a piece of history.

Tall kikuyu grass has managed to grow through openings in combined harvesters, tractors and fertiliser spreaders scattered all over the place like debris from an explosion.

The prime agricultural land which a few years ago was quite a spectacle with thriving crops and irrigation equipment running starting in the early hours of each day are now fallow, with little to suggest the land has the capacity to produce harvests worth millions for a country experiencing declining agricultural production and accompanying food insecurity.

While small scale tobacco farmers have emerged and seem to be thriving around the country, this is the current scenario at one of the former great farms in Zimbabwe, Kintyre Estates – a microcosm of the situation in which many other farms were recklessly stripped of their assets and abandoned by fortune hunters taking advantage of the country’s chaotic land reform.

Following a shock setback in a 2000 constitutional referendum and in a bid to ward off mounting political and social discontent, President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF launched a controversial land reform programme beginning that year in which thousands of white commercial farmers were violently evicted from the farms in a process authorities said was aimed at resettling landless indigenous people while addressing historical imbalances.

However, most of the prime land taken by senior Zanu PF officials who now own more than one farm each in contravention of government’s own land policy lies under-utilised or derelict.

The once lush-green fields of Kintyre Estates — once a popular farming case study even in geography school textbooks — have become a pale shadow of their former self after an ambitious project to turn the farm into commercial and housing plots was stillborn.

During its heyday the farm was a leading dairy producer, supplying up to 100 000 litres of milk per month, and was also a well-known wheat and soya bean producer. It was a major fixture on the itinerary of visiting heads of state as its irrigated fields and thriving herds were used to showcase the success story of Zimbabwe’s agriculture.

“I have witnessed the rot happening before my own eyes,” said Aleke Phiri, a former Kintyre Estate employee who has lived at the farm for the past 40 years. “I was employed during the (colonial Ian) Smith regime era when more than 50 trucks were loaded with grains and milk every day. So many farm workers wished to work here. Malawians and Zambian immigrants would come here first before they looked for employment somewhere else,” Phiri said.

While Phiri is not yearning for the return to the past, he is alarmed at how a viable enterprises has been ruined, robbing the people of jobs and the economy of growth prospects. Phiri’s view is shared by many.

Elsewhere, controversy surrounding the seizure of Interfresh Holdings Ltd’s Mazowe citrus estate, the group’s prime land asset, by Mugabe’s wife Grace has blocked external lines of credit to the firm leaving it on the brink, as shown in an article carried by this paper last week.

Grace’s seizures of land belonging to the estate have left Interfresh tottering on the brink of collapse, while investors are scurrying for cover fearing their money will sink in an increasingly unviable enterprise being destroyed by unceasing land confiscations.

Interfresh has total land holdings of 3 800 hectares. Grace has taken 870 hectares (23%), leaving Interfresh with 2 930 hectares (77%).

Of the 3 800 hectares, only 1 067 hectares is arable. Grace grabbed 414 hectares (39%) of arable land, leaving Interfresh with 653 hectares (61%).


While Interfresh had so many problems unrelated to land grabs which rocked the company, the latest confiscations by Grace —who plans to build a secondary school, hospital and expand her orphanage among other projects — effectively renders it unviable, compromising its ability to pay back its loan administered by the state-owned Agribank.

After the second land grab last December, Interfresh’s total budget revenues plunged to US$8,7 million from US$10,4 in December 2012 after the first seizure. The turnover dropped to US$3,1 million compared to the budgeted US$10,4 million.

Kondozi, another lucrative farm in Odzi, Manicaland, was destroyed overnight by Zanu PF bigwigs taking advantage of Mugabe’s land redistribution exercise that saw close to 4 500 white commercial farmers losing properties worth billions of dollars. The farm, which specialised in horticulture for exports, was handed to Chris Mushohwe, now Minister of State for Manicaland province, who has failed to run it and make it work like before.

Before its seizure, Kondozi’s products were mostly destined for lucrative European markets but there is now mostly grass where rows of sweet corn and vegetables once grew. The farm used to employ about 5 000 workers.

The asset stripping at Kondozi was only interrupted by the Attorney General who issued an ultimatum to five cabinet ministers to return farming equipment looted from the key horticultural farm or face arrest.

The five ministers included Didymus Mutasa (then National Security minister), Joseph Made (Agriculture), Christopher Mushohwe (Transport), Munacho Mutezo (Water) and Mike Nyambuya (Manicaland Governor).

Mushohwe was the first to return irrigation equipment he had allegedly looted from Kondozi as the government launched a probe into the stripping of assets from the once striving horticultural farm.

The looted equipment included 48 tractors, four Scania trucks, five UD trucks, several T35 trucks and 26 motorbikes. Several tonnes of fertilisers and chemicals were also lost.

Similar scenes are common on many farms previously owned by white farmers across the country after 14 years of the land reform programme which have reduced the country from the “breadbasket of the Sadc region” to a basket case.

Commercial Farmers’ Union president, Charles Taffs says government is aware of assert stripping that continues to take place with a devastating effect on agricultural production.

“It is not a secret that government has been aware of assert stripping prevalent on farms. Farmers took advantage of the situation and right now 120 000 hectares that was under irrigation before 2000 is now fallow. That alone is enough to feed this country,” said Taffs.

“We engaged government to try and get back agriculture to business but nothing has materialised yet.”

Ibbo Mandaza, a political analyst, said government has to make those responsible for the losses pay.

“There is a record of the people given the farms who stripped them bare,” Mandaza said. “Those people must be answerable for the losses that accrued when they took over the farms. My view is that government has to confront the people and let them pay because those farms were successful before the redistribution exercise.”


Another analyst, Alexander Rusero, says lack of production in the farms would soon trigger another revolution between the workers and their new masters.

“Zanu PF’s smash, grab and abandon policy on the farms will soon trigger another revolution between the proletariat and the petit bourgeoisie who now control the land,” Rusero said. “The farm labourers used to earn a living by simply working on the farms and all of a sudden the new master is failing to pay and provide for the workers.”

Rusero: “The whole land reform farce has proved to be a futile exercise for Zanu PF and Mugabe who must now provide for the suffering millions of Zimbabweans after destroying agriculture and the economy.”

But another analyst based at the University of Zimbabwe, Charity Manyeruke says the land reform programme laid the foundation for complete economic independence for the majority of Zimbabweans.

“The programme brought economic liberation and it has to be applauded because the majority of the people were landless and political independence translated into nothing without owning the means of production,” Manyeruke said.

“However, what is needed right now is for the government to subsidise the new farmers so that the process can be 100% productive,” she said.

Although land reform destroyed agriculture, some new farmers have emerged from the rubble, particularly small-scale tobacco farmers who are doing well even as they still face capital and capacity problems.

But the cases of Kintyre Estates, Kondozi and Interfresh are grim reminders of the devastation wrought on the economy through an unstructured land reform programme whose ramifications — including current food shortages — could haunt Zimbabwe for many years to come.



  • comment-avatar
    Doris 4 years

    Good article. Very true. But Interfresh had been stuffed up already by the takeover of a bloke called Lishon (can’t remember his surname) who blasted in, got half the staff arrested on trumped up charges, and then carried on to ruin the company. Good luck to Grace in her land grab. She will need not only a lorry load of cash, but also some top brains in the citrus world to make a success of it.

  • comment-avatar
    Jono Austin 4 years

    How much did the Government subsidise the white farmers back in the day? How much was Kondozi subsidised?

    • comment-avatar
      Doris 4 years

      I reckon that because the white farmer OWNED his land and held those magic documents called TITLE DEEDS, they didn’t need to be subsidised – they just went to the bank and borrowed money with their own COLLATERAL.

  • comment-avatar
    John Thomas 4 years

    Better you learn to drive first before you steal a car. Is this what this article trying to say?

    When you steal other people’s property you should not expect sympathy when it does not work out.

  • comment-avatar
    NBS 4 years

    There is a way that seems right unto m but its steps lead down to death. There is a Godly solution to all this. A fair one for all.

  • comment-avatar
    Expat 4 years

    Very good article, difference between the past white farmers and the current new farmers is the white farmers viewed the land whether owned or leased as a means to wealth, new farmers view land as wealth whether it is worked or not! now days if you got land you a big man or woman the fact you don’t produce is irrelevant. the continued call for Government to provide assistance is so that the new so called fat cats can have the money to go with the wealth because it has been proved over the last couple of years that any assistance provided is squandered and never used for the purpose it was provided.Until it is realized that land is not wealth, good luck Zimbabwe!

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    Zvakwana 4 years

    Yes Doris, Lishon Chipango, nephew of Nicolas Gotche, started the rot, its dog eat dog.

  • comment-avatar
    NBS 4 years

    The so called land reform was an ungodly deed. There are better ways. The land belongs to God and there is enough for all

  • comment-avatar
    former farmer ( White ) 4 years

    very good article and good comments. I have the privilege of viewing MY FARM through google earth and what was once a thriving farm employing 65 workers now has 10 settlers and what was once 50acres of prime horticultural export irrigation is now 20 acres of low yielding maize. My 65 workers supported over 200 family members and now that farms supports a mere 40 who are not generating the much needed forex. Disaster which ever way you look at it.

  • comment-avatar

    Never!! never supposed to be returned those lands, because you robbed the land and a hero man, Mugabe, restored to their right people, Former farmer white, don’t expect the land you looted again and we don’t need to be employed such white people, if you need a farm, you should let us know your parental lineage, you denied your originated family and now wish to find a land and divide black people, now black people have their mind back and united, leave blacks alone!!!

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    Joker 4 years

    Land reform was,is still and will ever be a noble idea.However I personally don’t think new farmers must be provided with inputs year in year out at the expense of the tax payer.If all these farmers put to good use what they got as assistance from the Government,by now they should have been stable.But because we are used to being given handouts we continue to be infants if farming.Let us be business minded as farming itself is a business which calls for meticulous planning,perhaps basic business training must be offered to those new farmers .

  • comment-avatar
    Jono Austin 4 years

    Umaari go away you repugnant racist-because I happen to be born with white skin in Zimbabwe I am not allowed to own a farm? If you are so concerned about ‘returning lands’ why don’t you start a campaign to return all the land to the khoi khoi and San-if you remember these are the inhabitants of Zimbabwe that the Shona brutally drove out.

  • comment-avatar
    former farmer ( White ) 4 years

    Umaari it is idiots like you who spew nonsense without facts. I bought my farm in 1997, with the blessing of the Zimbabwe government who issued a certificate of no present interest in the property which for many years had to first be offered to government. So take your racist view somewhere else. I am as Zimbabwean as any other and did not deserve to be persecuted. It is fools like you who have made our country the begging case it is. Mhata.