Lessons for SA? 17 years on…Zimbabwe’s ‘Rust & Dust’

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All that’s left is rust and dust, that’s the 17 year conclusion of land reform in Zimbabwe, according to Cathy Buckle. But what she finds more perplexing is how the very government that encouraged the invasions, has members questioning these very decisions. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, it’s a pity that’s all it is, and one can only hope others learn from it. And while some in the ruling ANC don’t see land expropriation without compensation as the solution, there are those that think it’s part of a radical economic transformation plan, that is forming the very election campaign of this faction. With the Zimbabwean election in 2018, Buckle also looks at certain elements to the ruling Zanu-PF party, which could very well become part and parcel of the ANC’s with the poor turnout in last year’s municipal elections, and the general election coming up in 2019. Cue…Don’t expect things to get any better, or objective, at the SABC… – Stuart Lowman

By Cathy Buckle*

Every morning I wake to the calls of Heuglin’s Robins welcoming the sunrise. This gorgeous bird, now called the white-browed robin chat, starts my day off with a feeling of serenity and peace. Zimbabwe’s spectacular dawn chorus is a daily reminder that no matter how strange, how absurd, how cruel or how oppressive things are in the country of my birth, there is always hope. And oh dear, we need buckets full of hope right now as we plod the last year towards 2018 elections and things get stranger by the day. Here are some snapshots:

Under a tree in a remote rural growth point a dozen men are having an animated meeting about something. They have sheets of paper in their hands and are all wearing faded yellow Zanu PF T-shirts given out in the 2013 elections which proclaim the now proven empty promises of that vote: “Indigenize, Empower, Develop, Employ.”

File photoZimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace greet supporters of his ZANU (PF) party during the “One Million Man March”, a show of support of Mugabe’s rule in Harare, Zimbabwe, May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo.

Zanu PF have started electioneering again. Has anyone noticed? Where are the opposition? Are they watching? What are they waiting for?

Imagine a country where the Reserve Bank Governor says the second highest driver of external foreign currency payments is subscriptions for satellite TV services from another country. (Surpassed only by fuel)

It only needs a few minutes watching ZBC TV to explain why we’re all watching satellite TV. “What country are you living in?” is the question you pose every time you watch ZBC TV news. They seem to live in an alternate reality to the rest of us; blindly unquestioning, blatantly partisan. They talk about bumper harvests whilst villagers languish in flood waters; they talk about the growth of industry which is apparently alleviating poverty and creating jobs meanwhile every month companies are closing and people being laid off; they talk about Zimbabwe becoming an export hub because of one new cement factory. Zimbabwe is a safe investment destination they say but don’t question the fact that you can’t get money out of the bank, can’t take money out of the country and that we trade in a homemade currency known as Bond Notes. Not to mention Indigenisation laws and corruption at every level of governance.

Imagine a country where 900 people have been left homeless and lost everything in flood waters. The desperate villagers appeal for help with essential items such as food, tents, blankets and sanitary products. To address their plight the President of the country donates 1,000 packs of ZapNax, (corn snacks usually eaten by school children) 1,000 bottles of mineral water and 1,000 packets of biscuits. Corn snacks and biscuits when you’ve lost everything in a flood? Strange indeed.

Imagine a country that spent $18 million importing maize in January 2017, 17 years after the government seized 12 million hectares of arable land from commercial farmers.

Zimbabwean men attempt to get a malnourished cow on its feet in rural Masvingo, in this file picture taken January, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/Files

Imagine a country where the Finance Minister says that 30,000 hectares of prime timber have been lost to “plantation occupiers” during the government’s land seizures. This translated into a loss of 20 years worth of timber reserves along with $2 billion in potential revenue and 3,000 jobs lost in the deforestation that ensued. This same Minister was an MP and cabinet member all through the years of land seizures but is only just speaking out now; strange?

“It was never a good idea to allocate forestry to individuals,” Finance Minister Chinamasa said. “These people had no capacity to run timber plantations…these illegal settlers only had capacity to harvest and could not afford to replant. Right now we don’t have plantations to talk of and as government we are saying they should be removed from the plantations.”

Despite the long overdue acknowledgment of something we’ve been seeing with our own eyes for 17 years, the Minister’s statement is confusing and contradictory. In one sentence he says the forest land shouldn’t have been allocated to the settlers and in the next he describes them as illegal settlers. Are they illegal if it was allocated to them by the government? Who is illegal here?

Zimbabwe bond notes

Minister Chinamasa went on to say something we’ve been saying for the last seventeen years. Illegal settlements in plantations were “politically motivated and as such hard to deal with; it would have been easier if the people were intellectuals,” he said. The Minister didn’t elaborate why or if “intellectuals” would have chopped down 30,000 hectares of forest land in the first place. He said other land would have to be found before illegal plantation settlers could be removed and relocated. He didn’t say how long that would take or how long it would take for 30,000 hectares of timber plantations to recover and start contributing to the economy again.

What else has been going on behind the smoke screen of land reform all these years? Who’ll be next to spill some beans. Now is the time to speak out. A man I met this week said the only thing being produced on our farms now was rust. Yes, and dust: rust and dust; what a sad picture we have painted.

Sing on Heuglin’s Robin, yours is the only voice of sanity in Zimbabwe a year before elections.

  • 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 cathybuckle.com, or follow her on Twitter @cathybuckle.
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