Save lives and talk to Mugabe – Denis Norman

DENIS NORMAN has changed but little over the years.

“I’m still an optimist”, he told me at his new home in West Sussex. “I have no plan to go to Harare at the moment but if I was invited to go and talk to President Mugabe well, I have ideas about how agriculture could be reclaimed. It’s not totally lost. The resource base is good and my understanding is that they’ve still got the back-up services of banks, research, extension and marketing. It’s all there. It’s production that has gone downhill and I have ideas about how that could be improved.”  

In an interview, Zimbabwe’s first Minister of Agriculture in 1980 told me: “People are obsessed with the ownership of land. Well, I’ve always thought ownership is important but what’s more important is productivity. How do you make the land more productive? You can’t produce any more land, so you have to produce more from the existing land.”  

The widely respected Oxfordshire-born farmer who made Rhodesia his home in 1953 and went on to become President of the Commercial Farmers Union and then Minister of Agriculture in Zimbabwe’s first government under Prime Minister Mugabe, told me that Mugabe was -when Norman was in the cabinet – receptive to new ideas and might well be once again.  

He said there is an urgent need for investors and businessmen to travel to Zimbabwe and ask the government where investment was most needed.

“They’ve got to go there on a clear understanding that it would be fatal to lecture or be paternalistic. But if they go there and say ‘Look. I’m a serious investor. I’d like to come in an assist,’ then I think there would a reasonable reception.”  

All land in Zimbabwe should be held by a Land Tribunal that should then distribute it on a leasehold basis to those who really wanted to be farmers, he said.  

“Not everyone can be a farmer. It requires dedication, skills, training. I always used to say the worst farmers were generals and retired clergymen because they haven’t got the knowledge or the feel for it.”

Denis Norman was speaking on the eve of the EI-AU “Summit” in Lisbon, boycotted by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown who fears sitting at the same table as Mugabe or shaking his hand.  

“I’d talk to him (Mugabe),” says Norman. “Of course I’d talk to him. I would certainly like to trade my ideas and listen to ideas he might have. He’s the man in charge. You’ve got to talk to the person driving the bus and he happens to be driving the bus.”  

Over the edge of the cliff, some might say. “Well, sure. Then you must tell him to put his foot on the brake.”

Denis Norman said that businessmen had a good chance of ending the Zimbabwean crisis and recalled the achievement of South African business leaders in the late 1980s who travelled to Lusaka to talk to Oliver Tambo and other leaders of the ANC.  

I asked if he could see the day when white farmers returned to Zimbabwe and started producing once again.  

“Well, I don’t think the older generation would go back. I think there have been a lot of youngsters, maybe their sons. Look, Zimbabwe is a great country. It has great potential.”  

Outside his new home, the Zimbabwean flag flew high. “I put it up when people like you come to see me, people who know and love Zimbabwe”. Fifty four years after he left England for Africa, it isn’t hard to know where Denis Norman’s heart lies. – African Forum News Services

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