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Ibrahim Seaga Shaw who recently visited Zimbabwe on a special tour of European journalists organised by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority shares his experience on what he found about the implementation of the much media-hyped land distribution policy, an issue which he said he apparently found difficult to ignore.

 

When I was invited to join a team of journalists in Europe on a nearly two-week tour of Zimbabwe's rich eco-tourism reservoir, I accepted the challenge despite my very busy schedule because I grosso modo saw it as a very good opportunity to prove or disprove the much Western media hyped stereotypical representation of Zimbabwe as a country where the only news is the wanton destruction of the lives and property of perceived opponents of Mugabe's fast-track land redistribution policy. At least I saw it as an opportunity to see things as they are, and not as the editors and journalists in Europe, largely following the lead set by their home governments or commercial mentors, would want us to believe.

The 10-hour flight from London Gatwick to Harare on Air Zimbabwe appeared less boring than anticipated perhaps not only because we were in the business class but because I managed to punctuate it with casual chats with two Zimbabweans also in the business class.

"Why are you visiting Zimbabwe; don't you think you are risking your life ?", a man who simply introduced himself as Simon, seated on the far right, ventured when I introduced myself as a journalist based in France.

"I thought it was better to come and see for myself what has been going on in your country and in any case a journalist worthy of the name should always be ready to go for the truth even if it means risking his life", I said cautiously hoping to sustain the dialogue.

Simon, a white Zimbabwean farmer, recalled how he fled with his family (wife and two children) to the safety of the United Kingdom when 700 hectares of his land was taken away from him and redistributed under the new policy leaving him with 300 hectares. He said Zimbabwe recorded about 75 per cent drop in the production of the country's main export crop tobacco because, according to him, most of the lands that were seized by force are yet to be put into productive use.

On my way from the loo located in the rear of the business class, I spotted a Zimbabwean black businessman called Eddie who proved to be equally forthright. He told me how the land issue was put on hold for 10 years following the country's Independence in 1980 but, he added, when the government saw that the white commercial farmers and their British government backers were not ready to co-operate in the 'willing seller willing buyer' arrangement without a fight, it decided to take the bull by the horns to embark on the fast-track land redistribution scheme. "Of course many Zimbabweans are yet to see the benefit from this land reform programme but as is the case with any revolution it will take some time before this would happen", said Eddie.

With these two different positions, which inevitably propped up my urge to pry into the controversial land issue, I returned to my seat . But once in Zimbabwe, I was quickly reminded by Colletta Bacchmann, the ZTA representative in Germany who accompanied us, that the main purpose of the tour was to take us to the country's many tourist attractions so that we can write to our people about our experience in these places. As if to make their point even clearer, our tour itenerary turned out to be strictu sensu about tourism. But I refused to bulge ; I continued to press for at least a day or two off to do some thing on the land issue. I argued that there is no way a visiting journalist worthy of the name would write about tourism in Zimbabwe without touching on the land issue which has already taken a heavy toll on all economic sectors of the country, including of course that of tourism.

And that was how I made my trip at sunrise to the farms in the Mazoe district in the Mashonaland east province, some 35 km from Harare, on Friday April 11, day 9 of our tour, a deviation from the tour itenerary which proved equally eventful. At least I managaed to get what I wanted although at the price of forgoing the flight to Bulawayo, the country's second capital, and the famous Hwange National park said to be the home of thousands of elephants.

My ZTA tour guide Gladys Bengo, who drove me to Mazoe from my Sheraton Harare hotel, said she was among most civil servants to benefit from the land redistribution programme which she admitted has made life better for her and her family. Located in the Marondera area 80 km east of Harare, Gladys said her farm produce mainly maize, wheat and potatoes with 13 full time employees.

"Thanks to the land redistribution programme, I'm now expecting to harvest soya beans in the next few days that would fetch me some thing like 25, 000, 000 Zim dollars; for the first time since I graduated from the university I'm now talking in the millions", said Edwell Hukuimwe, the Mazoe district Information Officer who together with the ZTA tour guide took me on a conducted tour to some farmers in the Mazoe district in Murewa.

Mazoe which, according to the 2002 census, has a population of 199, 408, owed its name from the famous small man- made lake Mazoe used mainly for irrigating citrus fruits. Farming is the main occupation here growing tons of maize, tobacco, citrus and soya beans, as well as diary products. Gold is also mined here with the Jumbo mining company employing about 500 people.

As we drove on a narrow tarmac road to one of the farms, we passed the Glendale Spinars plant for processing cotton, which Hukuimwe described as one of the best in the world.

When we got to the building housing the office, restaurant and workshop of Daniel Chinyemba, one of the many Zimbabwean farmers to benefit from the new land redistribution policy, it was buzzing with life. Beaming with confidence, Daniel told me how the new policy made it possible for him to have 80 hectares of fertile land, and how, contrary to speculation in the media, he has been able to convert his new lands into productive use growing over 300 tons of wheat among other crops.

Chinyemba, who said he has 44 workers (14 permanent and 30 casual) working on his farms, noted that he sells his farm produce to the Government Marketing Board (GMB) in the spirit of patriotism and because, as he put it, they assist with seeds and fertilizers, although he said the price they pay is otherwise lower than what is offered by the private sector.

Admitting, however, how his new acquired piece of land has really transformed his life, Chinyemba lamented how before the new land policy he and his other six brothers with their families were sharing a mere 7 hectares of land which he flatly said was not even enough for one family.

" In fact this land is too small for me as I've utilised every single piece of what has been allocated to me and I've got the potential to develop even 3 or 4 times of that land without any problem because I've also managed to buy tractors ", said Chinyemba.

Apparently in his 40s, Chinyemba said he is an agricultural engineer by training which explains why he is also the proud owner of the Glendale engineering workshop that produces farming equipments with four outlets in the whole of Mazoe employing over 100 workers. He took us to the workshop and then to his shop and restaurant run by his wife.

The climax of our visit to Chinyemba's growing business empire was our tour of his farms where he pointed to his " 27 hectares of cotton, down there we've 15 hectares of maize, and from here going up on top of there we've got 22 hectares of maize ; here we have bit of ground nuts and soya beans for next year's seeds ".

Chinyemba was however quick to admit that his new farm land was before the land redistribution programme owned by one white farmer called Collin Schaffer who, he said, was merely using it as satellite farm growing only soya beans and peas as he owns many other hectares of fertile land. He added that Schaffer was among the many white farmers who fled Zimbabwe in protest of the new land policy.

Our second stop was at the farm of Mazoe tour guide and Information Officer himself Edwell Hukuimwe, who showed us his maize farm ready for harvest which he said should be bringing in about 500 bags. He said he is expected to make millions of Zimbabwe dollars after this harvest. Hukuimwe said he grows three types of crops spread across the three farming seasons by way of crop rotation so as to make sufficient use of the land. He said he has about 9 workers (one manager, 3 permanent and 5 casuals) adding that appart from their salaries, he gives them bonus whenever there is a very good harvest.

"Before the new land policy, we were a nation of mere producers, but now we do not only produce crops but we own the means of production which is very vital ", said Hukuimwe matter-of-factly.

On our way on foot from Hukuimwe's farm we met some farm workers living in three small farm houses. One of them, Anthony Lucky, living there with his family, said he is still working on the same farm land now owned by a black Zimbabwean who got it from a white Zimbabwean farmer. When I asked him through an interpreter whether he was happier working for a black farm owner than he was under his former white employer, he said he feels much better although he thinks something should be done to improve their salaries against the backdrop of the growing inflation which is making life even more difficult.

As is generally expected of a district information officer, Hukuimwe proved to be well informed about the ups and downs of the implementation of the new land policy. Driving to our third and final farm of the day, Hukuimwe said : " special projects such as citrus plantations, green houses for flowers, which these newly resettled farmers do not have the requisite skills to run, are now being allocated to people with the required knowledge, experience and resources to run ".

Arriving at the Dorking Dairies specialising in producing dairy products and owned and run by a white farmer who was expecting us, I quickly realised the difference as far as security is concerned, unlike the other farms we had earlier visited, I saw a barbed wire fence with a gate manned by a security guard who only let us in after consulting his bosses.

Speaking confidently in an interview, Dorking Dairies Proprietor and Managing Director, Ian A. King said : " We primarily rare cattle and we milk cows ; but we also have a factory where we process our own dairy products and so unlike a lot of other farms, we have value-added products which is quite good because it creates employment for people in the area. "

King, who said he inherited the 300 hectares of land which he is currently using from his late father, noted that he has about 380 Zimbabweans employed on the farm, dairy products factory, green house for flowers, including those more or less self-employed in Harare selling dairy products on commission basis.

He said his farm has about 100 cows which they milk to produce dairies although as he put it, they also buy milk from other farmers ; " 35 per cent of the dairies that we sell comes from this farm and the rest from other farms ".

King said apart from his factory and that of the main Dairy board which produces 90 per cent of the total consumption in the country, " there is a few such as the one in Bulawayo, and the other in the south of Harare, but I think in terms of fresh milk production we are probably the next largest after Dairy Board which is partly government owned. "

In addition to the dairy products, King said : " We do horticulture, we grow about 50 hectares a year of vegetables mainly for the local consumption, and then we've a 2.15 hectare rose project which is exported into Europe and many other countries. We also grow little maize just to feed the cattle. "

I asked him whether he was affected by the new land policy, he said : " I dont know …up to now, we haven't been, but it is not for me to say wether we would or wont be. " King added that he is still using his 300 hectares he had before the fast-track land distribution policy and that he has not so far been approached by any desperate land grabbers.

Pressed on what he thinks is going to be the outcome of the stand off between the government and majority of the white farmers who fled the country in protest of the new land policy, King said he thinks it is going to be difficult because everybody has a different approach to the problem and " I think at the end of the day one thing that would always come out is that there is a ruling party and a government that is in power, and as long as that is the de facto situation you have to learn to live with that…In general I dont think there is anybody who ever doubts the need for an agrarian land reform ; the discussion has always been on how to achieve it…

" But I think government has had its policy and I think we just have to wait and see ! life has to go on…You see, it is all different now and it would always be different ; people would just go forward from here ; you have to continue with life ; we have to continue producing as far as we can as there are about 300 people who depend on this farm for their living. "

On the question of the run-away inflation crippling the country's economy, King said it has been very difficult but stressed that " the key is to remain productive and increase your productivity all the time, if you can keep pushing productivity and increase your output, then you can cope with the inflation ".
King introduced Nelson Masuku as his farm assistant supervisor and Glenys Wills as his Admin. Manager before taking us on a conducted tour of his dairy factory where we saw cows being milked and machines processing yoghurt with mostly black Zimbabweans working to earn their living. We were also taking around Dorkings horticultural farm and the green house of roses and other flowers.

Lessons from My Mazoe Tour

My tour of Mazoe which ended that evening left me with three clear impressions of optimism for Zimbabwe : First, that contrary to Western media reports, most Zimbabweans who acquired land from the new policy are making full use of it to better their once improvished lives and communities taking the cases of Hukuimwe and Chinyemba. Second, that there are still white farmers such as Ian King who are still going about their business peacefully and happily working with their black fellow Zimbabweans and would prefer to keep going in this way without meddling into politics contrary to what the media in the West are saying.

Third, attempts are being made to correct the mistake of allowing land grabbers who have little or no required skills, experience and capital to maintain the redistributed plots of land by now making sure that specialised farm projects are now allocated to people with the required capacity to maintain and develop them.

One thing though that stood out glaringly was the idea of a steady rise of a new black Zimbabwean elite such as the Hukuimwes and the Chinyembas as not only the producers but the new owners of the means of production, and it remains to be seen whether farm workers such as Anthony Lucky would continue to be better off under their new black masters compared to what they were experiencing under their former white masters, or whether they would also one day become owners of the means of production.

The final point I observed is that the Zimbabwean authorities need to identify and encourage more white farmers of the likes of Ian King genuinely determined to continue with their business in helping to generate the much needed capital in the country with the least intention of openly or negatively messing around with politics.