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26 March 2001

Now, words into actions

THE end of last week's special congress must have brought a collective sigh of relief to the leaders of Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers' Union when an eleventh hour repair job allowed the union to present a unified front to the country - and to the rest of a very interested world. If for no other reason than that, the congress was a success. It was also very clever politics, beautifully played.

And while there may be grey areas beneath that one overriding success, and there may be accusations of superficiality, of "painting over the cracks", those are issues the CFU has the ability to address now that the immediate danger of a rift has been set aside. After all, rifts and divisions happen all the time. They're central to any democratic process - and the reason for it.

But now there may be wounds to heal and fresh crises to plan for. Perhaps now is a perfect time to be magnanimous - and to respect the wishes of the majority. It is certainly not the time to pit farmer against farmer when organised agriculture faces such enormous problems. It would also be foolish to believe that the congress was anything more than a curtain raiser to future change. It might be a fresh beginning, but it was never going to be the end of farmers' woes.

So… fresh beginning or not, there are still enormous hurdles ahead. It would be nice to be cautiously optimistic about government's response to the congress. Zimbabweans were in no doubt that ZANU-PF wanted farmers to choose a new leadership - but that didn't happen. Despite that, Professor Jonathan Moyo, quoted by one wire service, said the result of the congress might provide "a new dawn". If the régime's chief spin doctor was quietly pleased by the result, and by farmers' genuine desire for dialogue, then there's room for carefully measured optimism. It was never implausible that the ruling party would be so peeved with farmers that it would unleash a fresh wave of vitriol and violence in the country. That remains a possibility.

And it would be naïve, even foolish, to believe that a farmer driven initiative on land will garner donor support. The people who decide these things in Washington, Brussels and London have slated the idea that they'll support any reform other than the Mark Malloch Brown initiative - and even that won't be supported until there is a return to the rule of law. As far as they're concerned, it's Malloch Brown or nothing, the rule of law or nothing - and farmers cannot expect their problems to be addressed in isolation. So, if farmers find a solution to their problems, but judges or the Press are still being harassed by the State, or ruling party thugs are still beating people in Chitungwiza, the farmers can go and whistle because not one cent will be forthcoming.

Which, of course, is the way it should be.

Zimbabwe is in deep crisis and organised agriculture is battered and worn, but another positive aspect of the recent congress, though less expected, could help influence a more positive reaction from the State. Mr William Hughes, one of the union's two vice presidents, spoke of "Farming into the Future". Under the corporate language were some of the most forward thinking and positive messages to come out of the CFU in a long time. The document he presented suggests, subtly, that farmers need to reassess their position in Zimbabwean society, that commercial agriculture cannot be looked on as a separate entity - and that more attention needs to be paid to cooperation with small scale and communal agriculture.

About time too. There has always been deep suspicion between different groups of people in the country; between different types of farmers, between races, between urban and rural dwellers. The suspicion hampers progress and fosters xenophobia, though it's based on nothing more substantial than lack of understanding and spurious "knowledge". If lip service is paid to the Hughes' document, the country's problems will multiply - but if the document is taken seriously, if genuine action and change is implemented, it has the potential to do more good than anything else since the present crisis began.

The trick will be to make government take the document and the CFU seriously, something that might be harder than most people would like to believe. Neither government nor ZANU-PF are really in the mood to listen to farmers. And it's oh so easy, given the callous brutality of the last 12 months, to say that is government's problem because farmers have done no wrong. It is also too easy to say that the present government has had 20 years to sort out the land problem. But laying the blame at government's feet will solve nothing until farmers understand the futility of maintaining the status quo.

There must be change - and farmers need to ensure that their influence brings about positive change, something that'll require putting words into actions. It isn't enough to say that organised agriculture accepts the need for land reform because, in a country like Zimbabwe, organised agriculture should be involved in land reform. So far that hasn't happened to any great extent, but there's no reason it shouldn't start now.



Brian Latham
Editor- The Farmer

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Will government open doors for dialogue?
WPA chairman resigns over mole allegation
Richard Amyot quits CFU
Battle lines drawn against foot-and-mouth
ACIA champions safe use of agro-chemicals

Will government open doors for dialogue?

ZIMBABWE'S Commercial Farmers' Union met last week for a special congress at ART Farm, about 20km north of Harare, where an end was put to speculation over the union's leadership. Prior to the congress it was expected that former CFU president, Mr Nick Swanepoel, would call for changes that saw existing president, Mr Tim Henwood step down. The congress, which was closed to the Press, attracted some 650 farmers from around the country.

But Mr Swanepoel, when asked to address the council, made no reference to a change of leadership, say farmers who attended the congress. Instead he told farmers that there was a need for "dialogue" with government. Farmers, who expected fireworks and controversy, described Mr Swanepoel's speech as "surprising". One said he seemed "almost contrite", while most said that Mr Swanepoel stressed that there was no hidden agenda behind his moves over the previous few weeks.

Renewed pressure

Mr John Bredenkamp, a shadowy business tycoon who backed the Swanepoel initiative, refused to speak with the Press. "I'm just here as a farmer," said the former arms dealer, puffing on a large cigar.

And CFU president Tim Henwood said the special congress was called in the face of renewed pressure to find a way forward with land reform, making no reference to the leadership bid and alleged split in the union. Insiders say that the so-called CFU coup was foiled the previous day at a council meeting at the union's head office in the capital.

However, just minutes before the congress opened, farmers were still discussing the leadership bid. "There's no need to change the leadership or to change the director," a representative from Trelawney in Mashonaland West told The Farmer.

Co-ordinate dialogue

Henwood stressed that his union was seeking dialogue with the government. "Nick Swanepoel, in his capacity as co-chairman of the National Economic Consultative Forum's land task committee, will act as a go between to coordinate dialogue between the union's negotiators and government," he said. The CFU's negotiating team consists of Messrs Peter MacSporran, John Meikle, David Irvine and Ian Sandeman. And when asked if he believed dialogue was likely, Mr Henwood told reporters, "I believe so, it is our government and we're prepared to talk without preconditions."

And while the CFU wanted to discuss solutions based on the 1998 agreement, Mr Henwood said that he believed that Mr Swanepoel's views could be incorporated into the Donor Conference Agreement and UNDP's plan.

Speaking to delegates, Henwood said the CFU had no plans to initiate new litigation against anyone in the government. Both the agriculture and information ministers, Dr Joseph Made and Professor Jonathan Moyo, have called on the union to withdraw litigation against the State.

Because the expected leadership debate was defused, much of the congress debate centred on a plan, called "Farming into the Future", presented by the union's vice president for regions, Mr William Hughes. It is expected that the CFU will use the plan, which was unanimously accepted by delegates, as a basis for kick starting talks with the government. It deals with ways of harnessing commercial agriculture's resources to support small-scale and communal farmers and the promotion of stakeholder funded reform in the country. The strategy also recognises that organised agriculture needs to improve its image in Zimbabwe - and to involve other private sector and community groups at its grass roots' Farmers' Association level.

Exploring mergers

Interestingly, the document presented by Mr Hughes also mentions "exploring mergers with other farmer organisations" and recognises that commercial farmers are "perceived as being isolated and entrenched" and calls for a "broader perspective" with steps to build strategic alliances.

Though couched in corporate-speak, the document is perhaps the most progressive paper put out by the farmers' union in years - a fact seemingly understood by farmers themselves. If implemented, with or without government support, it will bring about radical changes, not only to the face of organised agriculture, but also to the way that organised agriculture collectively thinks.

WPA chairman resigns over mole allegation

MR MICK TOWNSEND, the chairman of the Wildlife Producers' Association (WPA) has resigned. He offered his resignation to the association the day after the CFU's special congress last week. Townsend's departure followed allegations that he had leaked confidential information to the State owned Press.

It is understood that Mr Townsend supplied information to The Herald after at least one CFU council meeting during which the so-called split among members had been discussed. Prior to the union's special congress, a plan proposed by Mr Nick Swanepoel and backed by wealthy tycoon Mr John Bredenkamp had threatened the CFU leadership.

According Mr Colin Cloete, a CFU vice president, Mr Townsend admitted leaking information, but claimed he was not the only councillor to have done so. Councillors believed this was a "serious breach of confidentiality", said Mr Cloete.

But Cloete told The Farmer that the union welcomed the fact that Mr Townsend had brought new and different opinions to their meetings. "I told him that we have no problem with his opinions," said the union's vice president, "but that councillors felt uncomfortable discussing confidential matters if they believed they'd end up in the papers."

When contacted for comment, Mr Townsend accused the Press of bias against him, saying The Farmer was "a part of that." He said he had no other comment to make. But Mr Cloete pointed out that there was "no acrimony on the part of the CFU."

Speaking to The Farmer, Cloete said, "People thank Mick for his contribution to the WPA. He was worried that his views weren't in line with most other councillors, though this didn't worry anyone, councillors were worried about the confidentiality of their meetings." Mr Cloete, along with other union members, praised Mr Townsend for his efforts over the years. "He was excellent with wildlife issues," said Cloete, "and he always got the job don