Kondozi: This and other sad stories of greed and plunder

EDWIN Moyo gives a vivid description of the day when Kondozi Farm was pillaged by invaders in his book, My Kondozi Story — The People’s Hope Pillaged, launched in April this year.

Kudzai Kuwaza

Moyo was the majority shareholder of Kondozi which was a thriving horticultural business based in Odzi, Manicaland.

More than 5 000 workers were forced off the farm in 2004, while the livelihood of about 15 000 Zimbabweans, who made a living either by selling produce from the farm or through downstream activities, were affected when heavily-armed police evicted people from the property as part of the chaotic land reform programme initiated by government in 2000.

Moyo said with the help of former Zanu PF secretary of administration Didymus Mutasa, Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo, Agriculture minister Joseph Made and former Manicaland governor Mike Nyambuya, Information minister Christopher Mushohwe took over the once productive farm and literally ran it down.

“More than 5 000 workers, outgrowers and other businesses were displaced and lost their livelihoods in order to resettle one minister,” Moyo writes in his book.

The graphic account by Moyo is replicated countrywide as what was once fertile land on which various crops were grown has been replaced by derelict or fallow land characterised by weeds and blackjacks.

Farming entities such as Kintyre Estates near Norton which was a leading dairy producer, supplying up to 100 000 litres of milk per month, while also producing tonnes of wheat and soya beans, were not spared.

The farm was a major fixture on the itinerary of visiting heads of state and schoolchildren with its lush irrigated fields and thriving herds being used to illustrate Zimbabwe’s agricultural success story.

Kintyre, however, now lies idle, reflecting and symbolising the demise of agriculture in the country. The oft-violent and chaotic land reform programme has thus reduced the country from being the breadbasket of the region to being a net importer of food.

The land grabs have also affected major companies.

The seizure of Interfresh Holdings Ltd’s Mazoe citrus estate, the group’s prime land asset, by President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace left the company on the brink of collapse, although it managed to weather the storm. The land seizures by the First Family compromised its ability to pay back Industrial Development Corporation South Africa its loan administered by the state-owned Agribank.

Government last year announced the seizure of Springvale Estate which belongs to Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed wine and spirit maker African Distillers (Afdis) and covers about 1 300 hectares. The farm is located in Umzingwane District, Matabeleland South province. The company is negotiating with government to reverse the takeover.

The demise of agriculture is reflected in the poor performance of the dairy industry.

At peak in the early 1990s the industry produced 260 million litres a year, but is now producing just between 50 and 60 million litres a year whereas the national requirement stands at 120 million litres a year. This is an improvement, however, from 2009 levels when the industry produced a paltry 37 million litres of milk.

The decreased numbers of farmworkers is another reflection of the decline of the agricultural industry.

The number of people employed on farms has dwindled from more than half a million in 2000 when land reform began, to less than 20 000 as at January 2015, according to the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe.

Economist John Robertson said the land reform programme has had a calamitous effect on the country’s economy and until that is fixed its recovery would be difficult.

“It was a disaster. The mess is worsening,” Robertson said.

“Land invasions have closed down the country’s biggest industry, the country’s biggest employer and the country’s biggest exporter.”

The agricultural sector — which used to be the economy’s mainstay — can only be revived if the issues of tradeable land and property rights are properly addressed, according to Commercial Farmers’ Union acting director Marc Wilson.

In 2006, government introduced the 99-year land leases amid pomp and fanfare in Harare. The event was launched by President Robert Mugabe in a bid to breathe life in an agriculture sector that had been decimated by the haphazard land reform programme six years earlier.

Efforts by the farmers to get loans using the leases have been in vain, as banks have balked at giving loans to farmers who do not even own the land therefore making them unbankabale. That negotiations to make the land leases bankable are still to be finalised a decade after the launch of the 99-year leases testifies to the chaotic nature of the land reform programme.

“The major issue that underpinned agriculture was tradeable land tenure and property rights that ensured investor confidence. Unfortunately, the only mechanism for funding agriculture is the contract farming arrangement which limits capital expenditure. The system used to access land must be tradeable,” Wilson said.

Wilson added that the problem is compounded by the country’s uncompetitive yield when compared to other countries in the region due to the costs of production being higher because of the use of the United States Dollar.

Bulawayo-based analyst Dumisani Nkomo said the land reform has achieved the opposite of what it was intended to.

“The land reform programme was supposed to distribute wealth, but at the end of the day it has distributed poverty,” Nkomo noted. “Most of the farmers who took over the farms are poorer. The workers who were affected are poorer and the country is poorer after the land grabs.”

Nkomo said the devastating impact of the land reform has been particularly evident in the sugar cane fields in the lowveld in Masvingo where because of the disruptions the capacity of the country to produce sugar on both the domestic and export market has been reduced.

He added that it was ironic that the very farmers that the country had chased out of the farms were now the same ones producing what the nation is importing from countries such as Zambia.

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