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Regular contributor Cathy Buckle reflects on the land situation in Zimbabwe, what she refers to as ‘the elephant in the room’. It’s been 16 years since the farmers were evicted and still there has been no compensation, contrary to some media reports. And while this is one of the tragedies, Buckle says the other one is that the very people who grabbed the land remain unable to produce 80% of the food the country needs. It’s a lose-lose situation, one that South Africa can learn from. – Stuart Lowman
By Cathy Buckle*
Zimbabwe’s notorious October heat has descended over the country and we are positively wilting under a blazing sky. Respite comes only early in the morning and evening when the liquid, bubbling song of the Coucal fills the air while mosquitoes emerge by the dozen to chase you back inside hot houses! It’s usually the time of year when a kind of madness takes over and 2016 is a prime example.
After months of inexplicable, chronic shortages of US dollar bank notes, October has seen a new madness in the money nightmare. At most banks we are only able to withdraw $50 of our own money a day which isn’t enough to meet any of your needs be it rent, fees, licences, utilities, medicines or other essentials, not to mention groceries.
The banks, who we stopped trusting in 2008 during the last economic collapse, have again resorted to treating their customers with disrespect and contempt. For hours at a time their customers have to stand outside on the pavements exposed to the burning sun with nowhere to sit, no water, no toilets and never, ever even a whisper of apology. The cost to companies, employers and the economy in lost man hours while we stand in bank queues must run into the millions of dollars every month.
October madness, as it has been for the past seventeen years, is nowhere more evident in Zimbabwe than in regard to the land. Oh those two little words: “The Land,” raise the temperatures and temperaments of everyone because the madness just goes on and on, year after year, pulling us further and further away from ever being self sufficient in food again. In and around towns and cities we watch with despair and dismay as every tiny piece of common land is burnt, dug up, ploughed and planted with maize regardless of whether it is wetland, woodland, municipal land or greenbelt. No one stops the urban October mealie madness: not the Councils, not the Environmental Managament Agency and not the police. “Self apportioned plots” is the diplomatically sterile term used to describe the destruction of Zimbabwe’s urban habitat these days and all the long established By Laws and Legislation prohibiting it are simply ignored.
Also this mid October, the compensation issue, for agricultural land seized by the Zimbabwe government, has again reared its head and the madness this time round is dizzying in its irony and absurdity. For people who don’t know, or prefer not to know, farmers who were forcibly evicted from their properties by their own government since 2000 have not been paid compensation. Not paid for the land, not paid for the buildings, dams, fences and fixed assets on the properties and not paid for the equipment and moveable assets that they were forced to leave behind after the Zimbabwe government promulgated the Acquisition of Farm Equipment or Material Act in 2004, making it illegal for an evicted farmer to take his equipment with him.
Making headline news in the past fortnight has been a visit to London by evicted life time Zanu PF member and ex Vice President of the country, Mrs Joice Mujuru, who is now herself a Presidential wannabee with another political party which annoyingly, confusingly has the same initials as Zanu PF but is called the Zimbabwe People First party. Whilst in London, Mrs Mujuru had a meeting with Guy Watson Smith, the farmer whose home, land and moveable assets were all seized by her husband, the former Army Commander, General Solomon Mujuru. No longer a person in power or authority in Zimbabwe’s government, it was strange to hear that Mrs Mujuru was to talk to Mr Watson Smith about compensation. Was she herself going to pay compensation for the seized farm? For the Land? For the improvements? So, as another evicted farmer who is still waiting for compensation 16 years later, I couldn’t help but follow the story.
Despite sensational headlines in the following days that the ex-farmer was to be compensated by the ex-vice president, it turned out to be just another case of October madness. Mr Watson Smith, following a superb article by expelled, exiled, Zimbabwean journalist Violet Gonda wrote: “we reached no agreement for compensation, and we do not expect to anytime soon.” All the pair had done was sign a: “’Memorandum of Understanding, detailing and confirming acceptance of the events that led to the occupation of Alamein coupled with a commitment to progress compensation discussions.“ Hmmm, fancy language but as to the actual compensation, Mr Watson Smith said it: “concerned solely the theft of ‘Moveable Assets’ (vehicles, tractors & equipment, livestock, game, the crop in the land,)” and was for an amount that had previously been established and ordered as damages by Zimbabwe’s High Court.
Mr Watson Smith concluded by saying : “The land question remains un-discussed, unresolved… We believe that what we are doing is an important step in establishing precedent, and the re-establishment of the natural rule of law and accountability in the country.”
The “Land Issue” in Zimbabwe is the elephant in the room and it remains a tragic fact that sixteen years later not only have the dispossessed farmers not been compensated but the very people who grabbed the land remain unable to produce 80% of the food we eat.
October madness in Zimbabwe is about as funny as October madness in America’s presidential election campaign and in both cases we hope for sanity and change and pray it comes soon.
- Cathy Buckle is the author of four children books. She has also written the non-fictional African Tears, the Zimbabwe Land Invasions, Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe’s tragedy, Innocent Victims: Rescuing the Stranded Animals of Zimbabwe’s Farm Invasions and Sleeping Like a Hare. The article was first published at www.cathybuckle.com.
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