Eric Bloch Column

The Ant and the Grasshopper revisited

AS undoubtedly applies to most columnists, they will be targets for castigation, criticism and denigration from some of their readers, for inevitably not all of their readers will agree with them.


In fact, the

motivation for many columnists is to stimulate dialogue and interchanges of views and perspectives. Certainly that is one of the principal reasons for this column’s publication.


Very occasionally, the columnist is the recipient of support, for from time to time there are some who agree with him, and voice that agreement, but usually the voiced reactions are from those who differ with him.


In the majority of instances, those who are possessed of contrary opinions and who voice them, do so in a spirit of constructive dialogue, but there are always some who do so by recourse to insult, to scathing and belittling comment, and often with reliance upon misconstruction and misrepresentation.


However, rarely in the 22 years of publication of the Eric Bloch Column has there been as great a voiced reaction to it than over the last few weeks, following the column’s narrative of the Ant and the Grasshopper .


There has been an inundation of letters, e-mails, telephone calls and other expressions of opinion. Even more amazingly, out of 1382 reactions, only two were negative (Perhaps there is some substance to the old saying that “it’s better to be right by accident than never to be right at all”).


One of the criticisms was voiced, in a letter to the editor of this newspaper, published two weeks ago. The other appeared in an article on the Leader Page of the Herald last Friday, written by Boyd Madikila. Unfortunately, however, his comments were divorced from fact and, it would appear, founded upon embittered bigotry which blinded him to the actual message of the tale of the Ant and the Grasshopper.


In doing so, Madikila inadvertently and, most certainly against his beliefs, paid me an immense compliment.


He scathingly attacked me for having a “technocratic mentality,” evidencing from his diatribe against technocrats that, in fact, he does not know what a technocrat is.


The concise Oxford dictionary defines a technocrat as an “advocate” of organisation of a country’s resources by technical experts for the good of the whole community”.


If I am a technocrat, then I am proudly so, for I have always sought, so far as I am able, to advocate “for the good of the whole community”.


It was in that context that I have consistently, for over 50 years, opposed discrimination on any grounds other than the differentials between good and evil, honest and dishonest, capable and incapable.


It was in that context that, since 1958, I deplored the abhorrent Land Apportionment Act, originally enacted in 1930, markedly amended in 1941, and in force until replaced by the Land Tenure Act of 1969.


The legislation was vile and abominable, viciously excluding the majority of the country’s population from land ownership. I spoke out against its evils, and used my insignificant voice to urge its repeal, albeit to no avail.


But I have spoken out, and will continue to speak out, against equally evil and oppressive legislation, such as the currently prevailing Land Acquisition Act, and even more so when it is applied so catastrophically as to worsen markedly the lot of almost all of the community.


Although Madikila, and others of his ilk, will never acknowledge it, and will conjure up misrepresentative justifications of their distortions of history and of fact, the harsh reality is that, until five years ago, Zimbabwean agriculture fed all Zimbabwe, whereas now much of the populace is on the threshold of starvation, and the country is having to apply much of its scarce foreign exchange resources to the importation of food.


In many years, until five years ago, not only could Zimbabwe feed itself, but it was an exporter of food to the region. Moreover, agriculture was the source of much of Zimbabwe’s foreign exchange needs, but is so no longer (for example, tobacco production has fallen in four years from 237 million kg. to 85 million kg), and agriculture provided employment to over 300 000, and life support to over 1,5 million Zimbabweans. Now, thanks to the methodology applied by government to right the incontrovertible wrongs of the past, agriculture has ceased to be the mainstay of the economy, the provider of more employment than any other economic sector, the generator of more foreign exchange than yielded by any other economic activity. One hundred years of agricultural development has been substantially demolished and ruined.


Madikila justifies all this by historic misrepresentation. That is very possibly not his fault, for that misrepresentation has prevailed for many decades, and become the firm and absolute belief of many, and especially those who cannot judge others on their merits, but only on racial, ethnic or gender differences.


He alleges that the “ant” (in the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper ), being whites, acquired the lands they had farmed, “through occupation and dispossession, forced labour and racial discrimination”.


His allegation of racial discrimination is well-founded to the extent that the iniquitous Land Apportionment Act precluded black ownership of farms. But the claims of “occupation and dispossession” are either spurious or, at most, very grossly exaggerated.


According to the Encyclopaedia Zimbabwe , the population of Zimbabwe in 1901 approximated 712 600, of which 12 600 were whites and Asians, and 700 000 were blacks. The land area of the country was, and is, approximately 390 700 square km and, therefore, if all that land was possessed by the then black population, each and every one in that population, whether male or female, aged or child, would have possessed — on average — about 55 hectares! That was certainly not so! And, even if it were argued that the entire 390 700 square km were communally owned, it’s impossible to allege that all such land was productively used.


Production of maize was less than a twentieth of that being produced five years ago (and sufficed to feed the then population), and the “national” herd was less than 15 000 cattle. No tobacco, sugar, citrus or other crops were produced.


Admittedly, the colonialists of the end of the 19th Century did acquire some land by devious negotiation with Lobengula, and with the Shona chiefs, but most of the lands were fallow, and unoccupied. Also recurrently disregarded is that a very great number of the white farmers who were dispossessed of their farms during the last five years had acquired those farms post-Independence, from other white farmers, but having received “Certificates of No Interest” from the Zimbabwean government.


Despite having paid for their farms, and despite their acquisition of the farms having been with the concurrence of government, they have been deprived of their farms, without compensation and, in all too many instances, after having been made the victims of harassment, violence, vandalism and abuse.


Madikila also attacks the story of The Ant and the Grasshopper for failure to explain how the “ant” ended up having so much luxury while the “grasshopper” languished in empty hope. In accusing this columnist of “a selective memory” (it takes one to know one!), he does at least acknowledge that I did not suggest that “ants” (whites) are naturally more hardworking than grasshoppers (black people).” It is correct that I did not suggest that, and I do not.


I am on record as stating that Zimbabwe has a population of about 12 million, of whom 11,9 million are extremely able, hardworking and the nicest people on earth, having their lives ruined by the other 100 000.


Unfortunately, however, the “grasshoppers” in the tale equate in the Zimbabwean environment of today with, in many instances, some of that 100 000. There are countless, substantiated instances where the former productive white farmers (the ants) have been replaced by unauthorised settlers who were possessed of neither skills nor resources to work the farms, nor any inclination to do so.


They resorted solely to vandalising the farm infrastructures, destroying decades of development in order to sell the components of those infrastructures, and to pressurising any remaining white farmer neighbours to farm the lands on their behalf. They were certainly not, and are not, industrious “grasshoppers”. In somewhat like manner, many of the new “farmers” are from the ranks of the well-connected “chefs”, actively engaged in the urban areas in generating wealth from non-agricultural sources, but being farmers only on weekends, when in the main they relax in the farmhouses which they have acquired without payment, instead of actually doing any farming.


Zimbabwe critically needed (and still needs) land reform, but such land reform must be constructive instead of destructive, founded upon justice and equity, and now must be such as will restore agriculture to its former glory.


That is unlikely to occur until government acknowledges and reverses the inadequacies and inequities of the present programme of land reform, and until realism prevails, including that persons such as Madikila must remove the racial “chip off their shoulder”.


However, I fully agree with him that “Africa still needs revolutionaries”. Those revolutionaries need to be such as Nelson Mandela, with a genuine respect for law, humanitariasm and all mankind, irrespective of race and not, as proposed by Madikila, those who perceive “rule of law, democracy, good governance” as “hogwash”.


If the latter prevails, Africa will always be impoverished, and its peoples condemned to never-ending misery.

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