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African Tears Beyond Tears Innocent Victims Imire Can you hear the drums, by Cathy Buckle


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Mayhem and obscenity
November 19, 2011, 8:16 am

 

Dear Family and Friends,

The moment I saw the long legged bird with its stout body and flat head I was taken back in time. As I watched the bird walk, head above the grass, I searched for its name in my memory. It didn’t take long to remember that this was a Kori Bustard, once a familiar bird I’d seen often on our highveld farm. The sighting of the Bustard on a hot and very humid November day announced the start of a very strange and contradictory experience this week.

I had been given the rare opportunity of going back in time for a few hours by paying a brief visit to a commercial farm that was still partially functional. There aren’t many of them left eleven years into land seizures. These politically biased land takeovers should have ended years ago for the good of the country. Instead they just go on and on, year after year, slowly draining the last drops of lifeblood from our once thriving agricultural industry.  Every week now we hear of what are being called ‘black on black’ land seizures. These entail repeated invasions and evictions by black people, of black people who themselves invaded and evicted white people from the farms a decade ago. It all makes a complete nonsense of the rhetoric that land invasions were allowed in order to correct colonial, racial imbalances and empower indigenous black Zimbabweans.

With all this in mind, you can’t help but feel very apprehensive when visiting one of the few remaining commercial farms in Zimbabwe. The farm gates were locked and manned by a guard and it wasn’t far from there to the cropping lands. The road was of deep red soil and it snaked around a cluttered workshop and a couple of run down buildings. The obvious neglect told its own story. Farmers no longer spend money on buildings and immovable infrastructure because they know that on any day, at any moment an arbitrary bod off the road can walk in and claim the farm as his own. After writing this fact down for eleven years, it is still as absurd and incomprehensible as it was when it first happened in March 2000.

The road passed through an avenue of towering gum trees and alongside the remains of depleted seed beds before emerging at the tobacco lands. Perfect lines lay in measured sections, bisected by roads at equal intervals. Row after row of tobacco plants with enormous leaves met the eye in every direction. Looking down the lines there wasn’t a plant out of place and hardly a weed to be seen anywhere. Three tractors and trailers were at work in the lands. At least fifty men and women were busy doing various tasks. The first reaping was underway and a dozen or so were picking the lowest leaves, loading them into spring clips and laying them on the trailers so they could be taken to the barns for curing. A gigantic irrigation pivot towered over a section of the field, looking like an enormous scaffolding on wheels, the multiple watering points reducing the risks for the vast crop. This is farming the way it should be done, farming that contributed to a country’s economy, you knew it at a glance. The chilling reality was that this farmer and his fifty employees may not be here at the end of the day, week, month or year. He had no guarantee at all that he would be allowed to harvest this crop at the end of the season – it all depended on who was passing by and what their political connections were.

There were 36 commercial tobacco farms in this district a decade ago. Only six remain and all are enduring varying degrees of mayhem and obscenity at the hands of people trying to evict them. Leaving the farm and returning to the main road, the contrast is so dramatic that you literally draw in your breath. All of the neighbouring farms have been taken over. All the boundary fences have gone. Cattle and goats graze right on the edge of the main highway, tended by children who should be in school. A scrappy, primitive mud and thatched hut stands in what was once a large tobacco land. Two men guide a pair of long horned oxen as they plough up a small field. They are making a small red square of an acre or two in the midst of a vast, deserted land. A group of women sit under a tree selling wild fruits displayed in chipped enamel tin bowls.

This week the President of the Commercial Farmers Union described farms being the least prepared for the growing season in fifty years. He speaks of catastrophe and predicts massive food shortages in the coming months. Anyone who doubts his predictions doesn’t have to look far to see what has prompted this dire warning. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.



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