Article in the Zimbabwe Independent,
Friday 19th October 2001

Who will be answerable for hungry people?

By cathy buckle.
Zimbabweans have been following with great interest the coverage on ZBC television of the visits to farming areas by government ministers. The latest tour by Ministers Made, Chombo and Moyo of farming areas in Mashonaland East is of great concern. Minister Made expressed his satisfaction at the settling of some 2800 landless peasants in one district and said that the settlers were busy erecting what he called infrastructure. The ZBC cameras showed footage of lush fields of wheat and thriving crops of vegetables. It is an unfortunate oversight on the part of ZBC that wheat is not green in October, it is either brown and drying or no longer in the ground as it has been harvested. As for the fields of vegetables, I am disturbed that people are being presented with films of such productivity which is certainly not in the least representative of the situation in the district the Ministers were touring. Had the film been of vast swathes of blackened, burned paddocks, starving cattle or unplanted fields it would have been imminently more believable as that is the situation on the ground on scores of farms in Mashonaland East.
Minister Made may well have settled 2800 peasants in the district he spoke of but I am not sure where they were hiding when I visited the area recently. Minister Made's settlers may well be busy erecting infrastructure but I saw only three examples of it in almost 100 kms. Throughout the area broken down, abandonded and partly completed shacks are in the majority. Some have half thatched roofs, others have ugly black plastic overhead or old yellow fertilizer bags. Minister Made expressed his satisfaction at the pace and progress of land redistribution in Mashonaland East - a statement he has repeated in areas he is touring throughout the country. Minister Made is also on record as saying that he is very confident that the newly re-settled peasants will be able to produce more than enough food to fill all our bellies. I have only one question for the Minister of Agriculture - will you be around sir, in April, May and June 2002 when there is mass starvation across the country and we are holding out our begging bowls to the world? Will you be answerable Dr Made?
The commercial farmers in Mashonaland East are ready and waiting to plant. If they have been 'allowed' to plough their land, the soil is turned and ready to give life. The clock is ticking though, in days the first rains will be upon us and the only thing sprouting on thousands of heactares of land in Mashonaland East will be weeds as the 'war veterans' will not allow farmers to plant - tobacco, paprika or maize. Farmers whose resident war veterans have allowed them to plant are not growing maize this season. No farmer in his right mind is planting maize this year after the debacle of last years' crop. People calling themselves 'war veterans' claimed vast tracts of the last maize crop. They told farmers that if they wanted to harvest at all they would have to give a percentage of the crop to them. Others drove in with their trucks (the ones without number plates that have become so familiar) at night and stole as much as they could carry off.
At a glance, at least two thirds of the grazing land in Mashonaland East has been burnt. The cattle are desperately thin and look worse than they did in the two horrific droughts Zimbabwe has experienced since Independence. The 'war veterans' have liberated all the grazing and do not allow the farmers to put their cattle on the remaining grass. Along the roadsides the fences have either disappeared completely or are lying in tattered remnants in the ash. Poles have been removed for firewood, droppers have been burnt, wire has been stolen.
One farmer I spoke to said it would cost a million dollars just to replace the boundary and paddock fencing on her farm as she would be starting completely from scratch as every single pole and strand of wire had been stolen. Perhaps Minister Made can explain to the nation how his settlers are going to produce enough food for themselves, let alone the entire country. That is the most frightening thing about this horror story. The newly settled people, wherever they are hiding, are not planting either. There are not even tiny little fields of maize around their mostly abandoned huts. No one is planting anything, not commercial farmers, not war veterans and not resettled peasants. Very little food is going into the ground and no one is doing anything about it. Any crops that are being planted will perhaps be enough to satisfy one families needs, not the 13 million people of Zimbabwe. The police are not resolving work stoppages, the politicians are not ensuring that food is being grown and Ministers Made, Chombo and Moyo are cruising around with ZBC camera crews telling us all that everything is coming along very nicely. ZBC's lack of coverage of the real situation on the farms is grossly insulting to the intelligence of the average Zimbabwean. Between 40 and 60% of the farms in four areas of Mashonaland East are currently not working. The owners are there, the workers are ready and waiting, the seed and fertilizer is in the sheds but the farmers have been told they may not plant our food. They have been told this by the war veterans and politicians in the area. Over 10 000 farm workers in four small areas of Mashonaland East will be unemployed and destitute at the end of October if the situation does not change. This number can then be quadrupled when dependant children and extended families are taken into account.
All Zimbabweans living in towns and cities should go out to the farming areas and see the reality of the situation on the ground and not be fooled by ridiculous TV footage showing green wheat in October. These film clips are criminal; where will your reporters be in 6 months time ZBC when there is no food on our tables and no foreign currency in the coffers? The horrific facts are there for us all to see if we just turn off the main road and venture into any farming area. The cold, hard fact is that while war veterans and politicians squabble over commercial farms, no one is planting any food. Are you prepared to be answerable for this Honorable Ministers?
cathy buckle
15th October 2001


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