New farmers lose faith in land reform land redistribution a political weapon

farm_invaders_warvetsMost resettled farmers do not think the land reform programme was meant to economically empower the poor, but was used as a political weapon by Zanu (PF) to punish and humiliate white commercial farmers, believed to have bankrolled the MDC. A war collaborator and land invasion coordinator, who chose to be identified as Comrade Tariro of Chir

Though we grabbed land from former white commercial farmers, we have no faith in farming ever improving our economic situation as individual new farmers, or the nation at large. In fact, when we besieged these farms, we were told it would be another phase of a protracted and bloody guerilla war against the white community and their countries of origin, mainly Britain and other Western countries.

Had MDC not been formed 1999, farm invasions would not have seen light of the day. The fact that new farmers were originally discouraged from constructing permanent structures at acquired farms, underscored fears that Mugabe intended to use the land as a perennial stick and carrot device for garnering support. Though land redistribution was at the center of the armed liberation struggle, it was never meant to be chaotic or bloody.

ZANLA Forces Commander, Josiah Tongongara, preached equitable distribution of land and other economic resources among Zimbabweans irrespective of race, tribe and political affiliation.

Tongogara said the armed struggle was all about achieving a politically tolerant society where economic resources would be shared equitably among citizens. A society in which a black child would share the same desk at school with his white classmate. Never did he suggest the white community should be eliminated and disempowered economically.

Land invasion was mainly a result of panic by President Mugabe after realizing people had shifted political allegiance from Zanu (PF) to MDC. Naturally, commercial farmers became easy victims of circumstances as land was Mugabes last political trump card. Zanu (PF) never imagined a black Zimbabwean, let alone Morgan Tsvangirai, would rise and challenge Mugabes tyranny. So, the white man became a scapegoat and was accused of being the brains behind the formation of MDC.

My original home area is Rota Village, Murewa. Faced with fierce challenge from MDC in 2000, Zanu (PF) restructured and formed vibrant political commissariat wings similar to those used in the liberation struggle. They mobilized villagers to rise and fight the white man for what Mugabe described as neo-colonialism.

War veterans, police and army officers were deployed in villages to recruit men and women who would forcibly invade farms. Any form of weapon ranging from hoes, shovels, catapults to guns would be used to scare white farmers off the land. The weapons would be used to eliminate farmers who dared resist the land grab. Perpetrators of the bloody campaign would be immune from prosecution as members of the state law and order machinery were part of the land invasions, sanctioned from the highest office on the land.

Together with other villagers, we were deployed to invade Summerset Farm, a few kilometers from my home. We set up a base in the fields and regularly harass the white owner, who was a horticulture specialist and export farmer. The farmer and his family were initially confined to the house and denied access to farm activities.

As the white family was confined to the house, land invasion commanders on the ground equipped with army and police radio communication gadgets took instructions from command centers at district and provincial level. Command posts were at police stations and army camps. We were told to slaughter and feed on the white mans livestock and the whole exercise resembled a guerilla war operation.

Our commanders urged us to be brutal in the way we dealt with white farmers as we were war veterans of the Third Chimurenga in the making. We went for weeks without bathing as we kicked white farmers off the land at the expense of farming activity at our homes. After the farmer eventually abandoned his property, we erected temporary shelters around the farm. A senior Zanu (PF) official, mainly from the military or party structures, would then come in to occupy the main farm house, grab farm equipment and takeover ownership of the property.

A small section land at the periphery of the farm would usually be partitioned and distributed to the bosss relatives and connections. The majority of us would be reassigned to invade yet another targeted farm. The exercise would go on and on until some barren land was identified to settle the unconnected and poor land invaders.

Wherever the unconnected were settled on fertile land, the white owner of the farm would have fiercely resisted evection. Poor people resettled at the farm would have been used as cannon fodder in the struggle for the land.

I took part in invasions at four farms in Marondera and Macheke before I was finally allocated land at Chirefu Farm as an A1 Farmer. My plot measures eight hectares. The land no longer yields good harvests without fertilizer. Not every farmer accesses government inputs and the majority of A1 farmers do with organic fertilizer.

Of late, we were advised that The Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) established a loan input scheme for interested farmers. A farmer would pay $60 to access 44 bags of fertilizer. After harvest, the loan would be settled in form of two tones of maize. The majority of new farmers under both A1 and A2 schemes were yet to harvest more than two tons of maize per season. So, the ZFU scheme was finding no takers.

Since I was allocated land in 2003, my biggest harvest was half a ton (10 x 50 kilogram bags). I was allocated a virgin land without farm equipment and no accommodation. I had to clear the land and build some huts and a one-bedroom brick house under old asbestos roofing material acquired from old farm structures.

Since I am yet to yield a good harvest, I have never taken any produce to the market. When we invaded Summerset Farm I looted six cattle and herded them home. I later transferred them here (Chirefu Farm). The herd has since grown to 13. I also use the beasts as drought power.

When desperate for school fees as I always am, I slaughter a beast and sell the meat at nearby Mushandira Pamwe Business Center or alternatively sell live beasts to Surrey Abattoirs along the Harare-Marondera road. I am married to two wives and have eight children who provide labour at the farm. My welfare has been improving gradually since I was allocated land – albeit at a snails pace. It would need a microscope to notice the small improvement.

Most farmers I have met were of the opinion that nothing tangible or profitable would come out of the land project anytime soon, if government fails to adequately equip and finance our farming activities. Offer letters should also be replaced with title deeds for farmers to access bank loans.

Land invasions will continue to be Programme in Progress until all remaining white commercial farmers were kicked off the land. Currently, Zanu (PF) is silently embarking on what it called large farm down-sizing exercise. The exercise is targeted mainly t white owned farms. Designated land would be distributed to distinguished party youth as a reward for terrorizing suspected MDC supporters in the run up to June 2008 Presidential elections.

Soldiers and distinguished Zanu (PF) supporters continue to be allocated farms clandestinely through district administrators offices across the country. In Marondera they are vetted and allocated farm plots, at office number 6 DA offices. The office is manned by soldiers.

When I was allocated land I was naively a staunch Zanu (PF) supporter. My family has since shifted allegiance to MDC-T after realizing the agrarian programme mainly benefited a few and helped destroy the economy. We continued to take part in Zanu (PF) activities out of fear. In the March 2008 harmonized elections, we cast ballots in favour of Morgan Tsvangirai and MDC-T as regime change fever swept the country. My friends here claimed they had taken a similar position, as they supported the land audit advocated by MDC-T.

At the beginning of land invasions we were misled that Tsvangirai wanted land to remain in hands of whites at the expense of blacks. Now we realize Tsvangirai and MDC wanted equitable and transparent land distribution to those interested in farming. He also called for responsible farming which does not hold the country to ransom.

If Mugabe wanted to genuinely empower landless blacks, he should recover multiple farms grabbed by his inner circle and distribute them to the needy. The current farm down-sizing exercise should also target large farms acquired by top party and military officials.

I hope that when MDC-T wins the next elections as expected order will be restored to the farming sector. The MDC should not practice retributive politics as not all new farmers are Zanu (PF) and not all are selfish.

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