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.
By Elias Mambo
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.