Violent land reform youth corps wallow in poverty

MUZA Fredrick’s desperate situation hardly makes him recognisable as one of the vanguards of President Robert Mugabe’s often violent land reform that has seen politically linked chefs enjoying rich pickings.

Now in his early 30s, Fredrick says he was part of youth corps who were at the forefront of evictions that began in 2000, rampaging from farm to farm to displace white commercial farmers who were forced to make way for beneficiaries of the land reform programme.
Today, living on handouts, Frederick’s life has become a daily struggle for survival at Insingisi Farm near Bindura, about 80km north-east of Harare. The returns promised by politicians who encouraged him in the invasions have not materialised and he lives a pauper’s life.
Fredrick and his friends say they have been reduced to casual labourers by Dick Mafios, the new owner who they helped grab the farm. He now pays them US$1,30 a day for occasional jobs.
Mafios, the Zanu PF provincial chairman for Mashonaland Central, is related to Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment minister and MP for Mount Darwin South, Saviour Kasukuwere.
Commercial Farmers Union president Deon Theron said Collin Taylor, the former owner of Insingisi farm, is now in Zambia after skipping the country like most farmers traumatised by the violence accompanying the farm invasions.
Fredrick was part of a militia that invaded the farm in 2000 and stopped Taylor’s labour force from harvesting a ripening citrus crop meant for export to make way for Mafios.
“We arrived in Bindura in 2000 after some politicians approached us and requested that we help them grab land from white farmers,” said Fredrick, explaining how he ended up in his situation. “You know that this was the time when we started taking our land and occupying it.”
“They said ‘boys come and help us take land from the white farmers’ and that is when we joined in from Mt Darwin in our hundreds as youths. We were excited and the promise was that we would also get pieces of land which we could farm on,” Fredrick told the Zimbabwe Independent last week, likening his situation to a hunting dog that is denied the right to even eat the skin of its prey. 
“As years went by, no land was given to us until now. If we try to raise our concerns we are told that the bosses are also struggling as they don’t have inputs and so forth. Besides, we will never be taken seriously because the foreman lives in such squalid conditions.”
The married father of two represents the plight of thousands of youths and militant veterans of the liberation war still loyal to Mugabe who were at the forefront of the violent campaign, but have turned destitute after being dumped by the new owners.
Mafios acknowledged that his farm workers had no access to clean water, but denied that youths were taken from Mt Darwin during the 2000 farm invasions. He said he suspected that panners looking for gold along the Mazowe River were squatting at his farm.
“My workers usually get water from the borehole, but for the past two weeks it had not been working and it’s true they had difficulties in accessing clean water,” he said. “However, we will provide them with clean water that we brought in bowsers.” 
According to research conducted by the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, youths and ordinary Zanu PF militia contributed to most of the violence that characterised the land reforms at the farms together with war veterans. 
Thousands of militia, some claiming to be war veterans, went on a rampage from 2000 after Mugabe declared his intention to replace white farmers with landless blacks in a land revolution whose haphazard execution left Zimbabwe a basket case.
They burnt houses and property, assaulted –– at times fatally — farmers and their workers, looted livestock and vandalised equipment like irrigation pipes and tractors. Led by the late Chenjerai Hunzvi, the war veterans showed no mercy as they went around farms chanting slogans and singing revolutionary songs while wielding axes and knobkerries, in an exercise that virtually ground agriculture to a halt across the country.
Most of the farms have become derelict, as new owners struggle with finances and expertise needed to keep production levels high.
A visit to the once flourishing Mazowe area shows a sad picture of failure. Once vibrant agricultural fields are in a sorry state with tall grass swamping the wheat crop and citrus trees that used to characterise this area.
Farm workers’ houses are falling apart because of lack of maintenance while sanitation facilities have collapsed. Actual farming is at a standstill, and subsistence farming has replaced commercial, export-oriented agriculture.
“The owner of the farm can’t even provide us with clean drinking water,” said a resident at one of the farms. “Our families drink water from an open source – the Mazowe River which we suspect has raw sewage that flows  from Glendale residential. We don’t have any running taps, the boreholes are no longer working. The toilets are worse as they are in a terrible state.”
At Insingisi, like most neighbouring farms, neglect has taken over. Farm workers and the youths who used to terrorise them are wallowing in  poverty induced by lack of productivity.
“The owner of the farm lends us a bucket of maize meal at US$4,50 which will then be deducted from our monthly salaries of US$40,” said a farm worker who refused to be named. “But to be given that bucket of maize meal one should have worked for at least 20 days. The money is not enough to look after the families. If we try other alternatives like gold panning we are chased away by the police. So how do they expect us to survive?”
Another resident said most of the new farmers had little knowledge of commercial farming and were hardly in touch with operations at their farms.
“These are not real farmers from what we have seen,” he said. “They come from Harare once in a while and do not take part in the farming. As you can see, tall grass has replaced wheat on these lands.”
Another resident, Patricia Muremo, said a lot had changed since the new farmers settled in.
“People looted and stole irrigation pipes and farming equipment,” she said. “This has really affected people like us who were left behind. Now we feel the pinch, the taps are no longer working and we don’t have clean water to drink or proper food. We use the water in this dam to wash our clothes, bathe ourselves and the children and also to cook and drink. We are lucky to have escaped cholera.”

 

Wongai Zhangazha