Land power struggle through white eyes

It is interesting to note that the surrender of Rhodesia and the end of Apartheid in South Africa closed down the last bastions of white supremacy in Africa.

In the newly independent Zimbabwe it is a matter of fact that the large scale commercial farmers under the banner and leadership of the newly formed Commercial Farmers’ Union continued to represent white power.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and the Zimbabwe National chamber of Commerce never posed such a threat.

Pilossof’s focus on the white farming community and its desperate efforts to adjust to the new order without loss of privileges provides a riveting read, an invaluable legacy and a fascinating and pertinent historical record.

In a nutshell The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Farmers’ Voices from Zimbabwe vividly documents the ensuing post-independence power struggle between two powerful and obdurate protagonists.

In the red corner is the power hungry ruling Zanu (PF) party, and in the blue corner the wealthy white farmers owning “70%”of the best arable land and producing most of the food. As the saying goes, when two elephants fight, the grass that suffers.

The resulting rumble in the jungle created economic chaos and confusion: and Zimbabwe reversed with a dash of speed, losing its ability to feed itself as well as its currency and credibility.


“The position and security of white farmers was totally undermined by the land occupations.” They no longer owned the land (and all that was on it) and this fundamentally undermined their paternalistic relationship with their labour.

Many blamed labour for its part in the deteriorating situation, unable to see that the farm workers had no way to resist the wave of violence unleashed by Zanu (PF) and its supporters. Some white farmers even blamed the farm labourers for the situation by voting for Mugabe as far back as 1980.

“Within the white farming community, the paternalistic attitudes that were so prevalent during the colonial era, remained intact at the turn of, and beyond, the new millennium.”

“There was an overwhelming failure to redefine labour relations in the post-colonial setting. As the quote used for the subheading above attests, Farmer 32 viewed the labour on his farm as ‘his’; his blacks, his workers.”

About the author

Rory Pilossof is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. His research interests include cultural and social history, colonial/pos t-colonial transitions, land and current politics in Zimbabwe.


Title: The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Farmers’ Voices from Zimbabwe

Author: Rory Pilossof

Publisher: University of Cape Town Press

Pages: 266, paperback

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Post published in: Arts

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