When the time finally came to literally put one hand on the 4-metre-high stump of a huge old Msasa tree in my garden and push it over, it was an emotional moment. For two years I had held the tree up with a rope tied to a stake hammered into the ground; this was the tree where the owls always perched when they were on their night patrols, where the black-collared barbets chiselled out perfectly circular nest holes and did their bobbing and singing rituals, the tree that shaded the garden, that dropped curly pods every second September and where all the blue-headed agama lizards escaped the snapping jaws of dogs. When the tree that was struck by lightning had been reduced to a stump everyone rested on it from dragonflies and lizards to birds and insects and some beautiful bracket fungus which squeezed its way out of cracks and crevices. In danger of falling on the house I pushed the stump over with one hand this week and was horrified to see just a thin column of rotten wood left in its core surrounded by termite mud; how it had stayed standing was a marvel. Almost as much of a marvel as to how we stay standing in Zimbabwe.
Day after day we are bombarded with one absurdity after another and it gets crazier by the day as election fever gathers pace. We are still at first place on Economist Steve Hanke’s inflation rate dashboard with the highest inflation in the world at 391%. Electricity cuts of 18 – 20 hours a day are the norm. The cost of living for a family of six rose by 14% to Z$355,000 a month last month and the maximium cash that you can withdraw from the bank is Z$5,000 a week. Yes, a week, that’s the equivalent of US$4.54 hardly enough for the transport costs to get to the bank and back.
In a horrible 58 second video posted on social media a few days ago plain clothes agents are seen catching a man wearing a yellow T shirt and getting him to the ground, a riot policeman, in uniform, wearing a helmet and face shield runs over, kicks the man in his side and then runs off. What kind of savagery have we come to in Zimbabwe where a policeman can just run over and kick someone already being pinned to the ground? “This was the day the yellow colour was criminalized,” one reader commented and it’s our new normal now: if you wear yellow you are assumed to be an opposition supporter and for that crime you are targeted by authorities.
Then there was the email which came from the Farmers Compensation lobby group Valcon who’ve been working for years to get compensation for farmers whose land was seized by the Zimbabwe government and their supporters over two decades ago. A “top up of IR3 in 2022” was apparently now available. IR stands for Interim Relief and is a paltry amount paid by government to a small number of desperate farmers in advance of compensation being paid, if and when that ever happens. So it turns out the ‘top up’ was an amount of Z$440,000. Oooo, four hundred and forty thousand, that’s nice you think. But think again. Z$440,000 is actually only equivalent to US$400 at the current prevailing street exchange rate of Z$1100 to US$1. US$400 isn’t even enough to pay for a scan if you are a sick 70+ year old, desperate farmer whose million dollar farm and home was grabbed twenty four years ago.
Talking about farms, news has just started to trickle out of another new farm invasion, this time in Goromonzi, the same area I wrote about last month where there’s a great Lithium Rush underway. Coincidental? You can’t help but wonder. A man called Takesure arrived on a 32 hectare smallholding with an “offer letter” from the Zimbabwe Government saying that he had been offered this land by the government. After 22 years of land grabs, this had never happened at this smallholding before. Four days later Takesure came back, with the Ministry of Lands official, to compile an “assets register and to discuss eviction procedures” and the owners were told they had 30 days to get off their property. But later that same day Takesure informed the owners that he was now the owner of the land and “can evict us whenever he wants.” As one of over six thousand farmers who have lived through exactly this, endured the indignity, the fear and the pain and driven ourselves to the edge of a breakdown with no one to turn to for help, my heart goes out to this family and to all the employees and their families on this smallholding. They all lose their land, their livelihoods, their homes and their future on the back of an ‘Offer Letter,’ now called a Settlement Permit, from the Zimbabwe Government.
Still we shake our heads in utter despair, how can a government, our government, offer our land, our home, our purchased private property with Title Deeds to someone else and there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about it?
This farm invasion comes 18 months after President Mnangagwa publicly said: “We do not want violence and land grabbing, gone is the era of farm invasions.” (Aug 2021) It comes nearly five years after then President-elect Mnangagwa publicly said: “This issue of new (land) invasions is a thing of the past. The rule of law must now apply.” “We should cease to talk about who owns the farm in terms of colour. It is criminal talking about that. A farmer, black farmer, a white farmer is a Zimbabwean farmer.” (July 2018)
And so with elections looming we look at this mess all around us and wonder what has changed since the last election. It’s the same old same old for our poor Zimbabwe: land grabs, brutality, violence, oppression, inflation, economic crisis and business teetering on the cliff edge.
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Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend) Love Cathy, 3 February 2023. Copyright © Cathy Buckle https://cathybuckle.co.zw/
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