Mile after mile of nothing-ness

Dear Family and Friends,

Taking a friend home to his rural village this week, my eyes were wide open to absorb sights that we once took for granted in Zimbabwe, before farming districts became ‘no-go areas.’

How sad it is that 11 years after they were violently taken over, our commercial farming areas have become largely wasteland. Lonely, derelict, desolate places where the overpowering image is mile after mile of nothing-ness. No fences, no farming activity, no production, and in most places, very few livestock and even fewer people.

Sitting on a small anthill, surrounded by blackened, burnt landscape was a young man with a whip in his hand. Four black and brown cattle were snuffling in the dust and ash nearby, searching for green shoots of grass. The look on the face of the young man was that of utter boredom. Every now and again his hand came up and flicked at a fly on his face or he lazily swished the whip in the direction of the four cattle.

Too old to be at school and one of the approximately 90 percent of people unemployed in Zimbabwe, the young man had become the cattle minder. He would only have been a little boy, perhaps nine years old, when this place was turned upside down. I wondered if he could remember the time when this farm had been bustling with life and productivity and employed scores of people.

The anthill that the young man was lolling against is on land which used to be a prime dairy farm. Just a decade ago there were sturdy fences and lush green pastures where the young man was sitting. A few hundred fat, shiny black and white Holstein cows used to graze here, so heavy with milk that their udders nearly touched the ground. Every two or three days the milk tankers came, all year round, winter or summer, rain or shine.

The fresh milk from this dairy farm was much sought after by everyone in the area, as was the thick, sweet cream it gave and the glossy yellow butter it made. The commonest sight in the early mornings and late afternoons was of people walking to the farm carrying containers, going to buy fresh milk, straight from the cow.

All that came to a stop when the Zimbabwean Ambassador to an eastern European country decided he was going to have that dairy farm. We could never understand why an Ambassador based in another country should be given a seized farm, or how he could be classed as a ‘land hungry peasant’ – but common sense made no difference in the greedy political land grab.

My friend’s words interrupted my thoughts as we passed the now deserted dairy farm. “There is nowhere to get milk here anymore,” he said. Around the corner, on another seized commercial farm, the fences were all gone and a donkey cart lay abandoned in the dirt with a broken axle and only one wheel.

The driveway leading to the farm house which had once been a wide clear road, was so under utilized that it was overgrown with grass and tree saplings and had become little more than a footpath.

Arriving at my friend’s village the contrast to the desolate overgrown farms was dramatic; everywhere people were visible and busy. They were re-thatching roofs before the rain, stacking bricks that had been made and fired during the winter, carrying piles of dark black manure from their cattle pens to the fields. Women were carrying water to their beds of tomatoes and cabbages and everyone was busy getting ready for rain and the new season.

Later that day I sat reading a book I had bought recently, called “If Something is Wrong.” Published by the Agricultural Workers Union, the book presents eye witness accounts of Zimbabwe’s farm seizures as told by the farm workers. It is a seldom heard side to the land reform story which makes for compelling, painful reading.

First hand accounts from men and women who had no voice during the land seizures. Men and women who met every criteria for receiving the land that was being seized. But they did not; instead their lives, homes and families were utterly ravaged by greedy, violent thugs doing the bidding of their political masters. Perhaps one day the young man leaning on an anthill watching four cows will hear the whole story.

Until next time, thanks for reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu.

Post published in: Letters to the Editor

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