Greed turns noble agrarian reform into racist enterprise

Ray Matikinye


A STAMPEDE for instant riches that bears stunning resemblance to the 1897 Klondike gold rush has taken on new dimensions as Zanu PF functionaries and status seekers abuse their new-found positions to reap where they did not sow.

Picture a rec

ently elected legislator leading a marauding band of land invaders hurtling to displace a Danish dairy establishment on the outskirts of Harare and the similarities become obvious.

Picture too a deputy minister trying to force out a successful citrus grower and exporter at Chigwell Farm near Chegutu after abandoning another farm acquired earlier in Banket and marvel at the avarice.

The Klondike gold rush began when two ships docked in San Francisco and Seattle carrying miners returning from the Yukon with bags of gold.

Soon, miners of all shapes and sizes were on their way to the gold fields. Within six months, an estimated 100 000 gold-seekers set off for the Yukon but only a third completed the trip.

Like some of our “new farmers” that are clueless about commercial agriculture, most of those involved in the gold rush knew little or nothing about where they were going or what they had to do when they got there, so pamphlets were made available to help them on their way. 

The brochures contained little or imprecise information that exaggerated the amount of wealth to be made by everyone. Adventurers realised there were no gold coins along the paths.

When the late Zanu PF luminary, Eddison Zvobgo, told parliament: “We have turned what was a noble agrarian revolution into a racist enterprise,” few of his colleagues quite grasped the import of his remarks.

Even when Zvobgo’s contemporary and Vice-President Joseph Msika belatedly warned farmers at a field day in Kadoma recently that government cannot remove every white commercial farmer “because it is stupidity”, a good number of them chuckled up their sleeves.

“When some of you take these farms, you don’t make use of them.  Regai kubvisa anogona kurima nokuti ane ganda rakasiyana nerako (Don’t evict productive farmers on the basis of the colour of their skin)” Msika said, adding that some farmers had been chased away without state permission.

Some of Zvobgo’s headstrong contemporaries have gone ahead and made a noble agrarian reform programme an enterprise tinged with open racism and theft.

Others have ventured streets further to taint the agrarian reform by assuming the role of serial harvesters or robber barons of farm equipment and implements rather than showcase their industry and acumen as competent farmers.

Rewind to 2000 and witness erstwhile indigent peasants suddenly transfigured from owners of three modest pole and mud huts to proud owners of fully furnished multi-billion dollar mansions on commercial farmland accommodating large herds.

Six years down the line, Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform has transformed into much more than a racist enterprise.

The noble land revolution that a prescient Zvobgo spoke about has become an enterprise by cronies of the ruling elite to reap where they have not sown out of sheer greed veiled in dubious radicalism as “remedying the maladies of colonial land imbalances”.

Fathom the folly and deception of a junior clerk in the Lands ministry brandishing an “offer letter” in the face of an indigenous farmer bidding to take over well-run livestock rebuilding initiative at Solario Estate in Zvimba.

Then you begin to appreciate the exasperation, frustration and nightmares central bank governor, Gideon Gono must endure in attempting to stop further land invasions and put back on track an economy flying off the handle.

When you superimpose a governor in Masvingo making frantic efforts to dispossess the widow of a beneficiary of a cattle ranch while another legislator in the same province brags about owning 2 500 head of beef cattle, commandeered from an elderly white widow in Mwenezi, a broader picture of the nouveau riche emerges.

Or a minister tasked with the portfolio to maintain law and order, consorting with his spouse in kicking out a citrus grower in order to harvest 7 000 tonnes of ripe export quality fruit in Matabeleland South.

These are the emerging crops of fortune seekers, scrambling on a self-aggrandisement mission on the pretext of recovering “land stolen from our ancestors”, for personal enrichment ahead of genuinely land-short, but competent peasants.

Hapless peasants wallow on the fringes, patiently waiting for their turn to move away from barren soils.
The ruling elite has transformed itself into landed gentry, identical in form to the colonial settler they have displaced.

For instance, when Joseph Christopher Musa was elected to represent Mudzi following the elevation of Ray Kaukonde to governor for Mashonaland East, he saw an opportunity in his newly-found political status to enrich himself.

Musa sought to grab Zengea Farm a fortnight ago without due regard to the bilateral agreement existing between the Danish government and Zimbabwe.

Neither did deputy Information minister, Bright Matonga pay any mind to existing contracts between prime seed producer SeedCo and farmer John Beattie when he cherry-picked Chigwell Estate after abandoning Mupandaguta Farm in Banket.

Matonga, together with his spouse who had arrived from the UK two weeks before, had displaced an elderly white couple. They baulked on realising the amount of input needed to maintain viability. The couple ran their tongues over their lips for Chigwell Estate.

It has become extremely difficult to differentiate between an emerging acquisitive ethic among the ruling elite and the colonial settler who expropriated land over a century ago and banished the indigenous people to wasteland.

But some semblance of sanity occasionally emerges. Two weeks ago Mutasa told youths in Karoi who had requested land for income-generating projects: “When I say go and take land, I don’t mean productive land already occupied by white farmers. I mean idle land.”

Mutasa had seen vast tracts of formerly productive farmland lying desolate and derelict along the Harare-Chirundu road on his way to the youth meeting.

Yet conflicting signals that have been coming from government officials appear not to deter the scramble for ready-made riches by those with newly found political clout.

The stampede debunks government claims that the land reform programme “has been successfully concluded”. By the look of it, it hasn’t even begun!