SIXTY-YEAR old Jo Swath has been farming maize in the Macheke
area of Mashonaland East province for the past 15 years.
When the government embarked on the compulsory acquisition of
farms for redistribution to landless Zimbabweans in 2000, Swath was spared one
of his three properties.
However, officials from the provincial land committee visited
him three weeks ago and informed him that his remaining farm had now been
designated for acquisition. They told him it would be subdivided, leaving a
portion of the property for him.
“The visit took me by surprise. I was beginning to think that
things were starting to look up for me since my other two farms were taken to
resettle some black families. I tried to point out to the officials from the
provincial administrator’s office that the intended acquisition of my remaining
farm was not proper, since the government was insisting on a “one man, one farm”
policy. But one of them rudely said I could be removed and forced to join the
queue of applicants wanting new plots,” Swath told IRIN.
The government had announced that its controversial fast-track
land reform programme ended in August 2002. Swath said he therefore approached a
law firm representing the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) for legal advice and
was told to lodge a court application barring the acquisition of his farm.
But despite this, new settlers have trickled onto his property,
setting up temporary structures as they look forward to the coming raining
The police were informed but are not taking any action, despite
a provisional court order directing them to evict the settlers.
Swath is one of around 600 white farmers who have remained on
the land. Before land reform began, the CFU had some 4 500 members, who occupied
11 million hectares of Zimbabwe’s prime agricultural land. According to CFU
president Colin Cloete, some of those who lost their land in the initial – often
violent – wave of government-backed land invasions, have relocated to
neighbouring African countries, or emigrated overseas.
However, a sizeable number have moved into Zimbabwe’s towns and
cities, hoping that their court applications contesting the seizures will one
day be processed in their favour.
Those who managed to cling on to their farms were able to do so
for a variety of reasons.
Farmers like Swath struck deals, giving up some of their land
for redistribution. “I made a mutual agreement with the land authorities that
they could take my other two farms and leave me with one. A notice of no
intention to acquire the farm was issued,” he explained.
“It was not easy, though. In 2001, a certain war veteran led a
band of settlers onto my farm but the provincial administrator’s office
intervened and they went away,” Swath said.
Other farmers were rescued because they had long-standing
working relations with influential black Zimbabweans, who used their connections
to dissuade the authorities from acquiring their land.
Stoff Hawgood, chairman of the National Association of Dairy
Farmers, acknowledged that black businessmen played a crucial role in ensuring
that most of his members remained on their farms.
He mentioned Anthony Mandiwanza, the president of the
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, and Thompson Mabika of Dairiboard
Zimbabwe, as some of those influential figures.
“Their efforts with government have, I believe, resulted in so
many dairy farmers still being on their farms today,” Hawgood declared in his
report to the association’s annual general meeting in July.
For David Connolly, a beef and dairy farmer in Matebeleland
South province, recourse to the courts was his salvation.
“I am aware that the police and some court officials, who are
supposed to enforce and
interpret the law, have been unwilling to help white farmers
for obvious political reasons. However, I remained steadfast in pushing the
courts to evict the squatters who camped on my farm in 2001, and I succeeded,”
Connolly told IRIN.
A recently instituted Presidential Land Review Committee last
month acknowledged that the resettlement of land-hungry black Zimbabweans was
being hampered by court applications challenging the legality of the gazetting
and acquisition of farms by commercial farmers. This seriously curtailed
production, the committee said, as some of the farms were left idle.
An interim report by the committee also accused some senior
figures within the ruling party of multiple farm ownership, despite the
government’s policy of “one man, one farm”.
Connolly, who said he enjoyed good relations with settlers on
neighbouring farms, added that his farm had not attracted a lot of attention
from would-be settlers because, being a ranch, it was not suitable for ordinary
crop farming in the dry southern province.
Others, according to the CFU, had not been so fortunate. In a
number of provinces, white commercial farmers, particularly those whose farms
have been partitioned to make way for the new settlers, complain that their new
neighbours are disrupting their operations. They charge that some new farmers
steal and vandalise their equipment, snare their animals and threaten them with
eviction. “There are still many dairy farmers continuing to face threats on a
daily basis from land occupiers, who continue to make unreasonable demands and
apply pressure in the ongoing efforts to force them to say, ‘enough is enough’,
and pack their bags and leave, as so many have already done,” Hawgood said. Mac
Crawford, CFU vice-president, told delegates at the union’s 60th annual congress
this week that farm equipment worth $75 billion (US $91 million) had been stolen
or vandalised. Cloete recently announced that farm evictions continued to occur,
particularly in Mashonaland West and Mashonaland East. “These illegal evictions
have disrupted production extensively, and several wheat crops, as well as
export crops and preparations for summer food, have been affected. The [CFU]
appeals to the relevant authorities to put a stop to these disruptive
evictions,” Cloete said in a statement. He added that acquisition orders were
still being issued, mainly to farms which did not qualify for acquisition and
were currently producing not only food, but crops earning foreign currency. An
assessment by United Nations agencies found food production in Zimbabwe has
fallen by more than 50 percent measured against a five-year average. As a result
of land reform, large-scale agriculture produced only about one-tenth of its
1990s output. However, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made said this week, “the CFU
has become irrelevant to what is on the ground”. The official Herald newspaper
on Thursday quoted Made as saying: “There are a few remnants of former white
commercial farmers, about 200 of them, and the tendency is to lecture to 11
million Zimbabweans about the destruction of the economy. “Really, if we look at
how they say we have destroyed the economy, you wonder why they don’t see how
they have destroyed it through their racist view on the land issue. They started
by exporting crops grown here, retaining forex, banking it outside, growing
flowers instead of food crops, and they even slaughtered dairy cows, and now
they are burning pastures,” said the minister. “This group has played mischief
all the time, because they think they are a special race. Anyway, I hope they
had a nice congress,” Made added. – IRIN