I HAD a depressing exchange with a young Zanu PF activist. I asked how he was doing out at the farm. He replied that he had given up farming, he complained that it was too hard, too demanding and did not pay as quickly as he would have liked.
He said; “Don’t let looks fool you mdara it’s not about sprinkling a few seeds onto the ground then reaping the dollars.”
He laughed off his venture into farming easily, too easily. He said, he would survive by harvesting firewood on the farm.
This is the hidden and untold cost of the land reform programme. We have given land to thousands of people with neither affinity nor knowledge of farming. It was in their books, a novel and lucrative exercise but now both have died down.
During the liberation struggle, most white farmers stayed on their land even though they were considered targets by guerrilla forces. Many were killed. They did so because it was a part of them as “farmies”.
Contrast this with our new farmers. They talk nonchalantly about “going out to the farm”.
A farm whose story of hard work, sacrifice, dedication and above all love they can neither tell nor own. Because of this there is a mismatch, they own the land in an off-handed manner, therefore, at the slightest challenge they quit.
They have an ephemeral attachment to the land to which they have limited legal rights. The land too has never owned them. To the back farmers, land remains a resource to be exploited as quickly as possible.
I did my primary education at a multi-racial school in Marondera. What struck me most during my time there was how black students stood shoulder to shoulder with the whites in all aspects of endeavour as school boys.
Blacks could stand out in swimming, rugby, cricket or hockey. Blacks played classical music and excelled academically. My schooling showed me that achievement is not racial. Nor is excellence or any other human measure of conduct or decency.
This imbued in me a deep sense of pride. I took pride in being the equal of any man. I lived my racial identity with comfort. From this I know black farmers can do as well as the white farmers.
On the condition that they are farmers and not hustlers looking for a quick payout.
They have to belong on the land, love the land and want to write a life story through every bush, kopje, river, stream or path on their land.
I believe the government has to make resettled farmer must be given the option to pay for the land to dispel the racist archetype of the black man: indolent and reckless.
The pride not to accept handouts, the simple belief that I shall eat of the fruits of my labour. The fate of Zimbabwe has rested and faltered on the qualities of its people.
Everyone who is on a farm and belongs there must show this by undertaking to pay for that land. Any farmer worth the name can do this. It is a fine measure of a person to work for something rather than get it for free. Being black does not confer any special privileges. Our being black does not make us in any way a peculiarity; science, reason economics and history make no concessions to our race.
The same principles that underpinned the success of Rhodesia as a bread basket of the region are the same ones that must underpin Zimbabwe’s agricultural success. The race of the men and women doing the farming has changed but not the qualities.
It is to be expected, therefore, that he/she who pays for the land will cherish it. If our new farmers were made to pay for the land this would be a de facto use it or lose it policy: if you cannot use it then you cannot pay for it.
The money raised could be used directly to pay the original owners of the farms and remove a stain on our politics. Where a resettled farmer fails to pay for the land then clearly that person is not a farmer. They should not waste a valuable national resource.
Government in its turn must have the moral courage to, in cases where a resettled cannot pay for the land, offer it back to the original owner.
How can we Zimbabweans accept that Kirsty Coventry can be a cabinet minister but that she cannot own and work land in Zimbabwe? This is an indictment of us as a people, we cannot look ourselves squarely in the mirror and if we can then there is something fundamentally wrong with us.
Zimbabwe apparently won gold medals through her efforts. If those medals are Zimbabwe’s then she’s Zimbabwean.
Basic tenet of human decency demands that we call ourselves out on this. It’s time to put the hatred and what is at the national level petty divisiveness aside. Nobody calls us newly independent anymore.
We ought by now to have come off age, a fully-fledged nation as wise from our failures as our successes. The land reform exercise needs reform. It is not only about the economic imperatives but also the social and psychological. We blacks have to set high standards of endeavour and achievement as an example to ourselves and our children.
The story of the farms must not remain about the white man carving them out of the virgin bush and then being dispossessed and having half of them run into disarray and ruination.
Our new farmers have not shown their mettle nor intrepidness on the land. What stories can they tell about the farm houses they live in, the dams that water their fields or the winding roads they drive?
Let the government set this challenge before them. Deep in my heart I know that many will fail but others will succeed. Humans strive, achieve or fail not according to race but to effort, commitment and sacrifice. It is time for our new farmers to show these qualities.
Tsuro has a degree in Psychology. He is a social commentator and something of an iconoclast.