September 9, 2002
New African, May 2002: If you believe the Western media and Zimbabwe's own private and anti-government media, the country has broken up and fallen down the bottom of a hole. But nothing of the sort has happened. Baffour Ankomah spent two weeks in Zimbabwe immediately after the recent presidential election [Spring 2002]. He travelled over 4,200 kms in the countryside to see things for himself. This is his report.
Zimbabwe is a strange country. It is beautiful and ugly all at the same time. Its natural aesthetic endowments can win any beauty contest at any time. Yet, its land tenure system is so obscene that it throws out in your face all the ugliness in human greed. In short, it stinks!
But let's concentrate on aesthetics for the meantime. The beauty of Zimbabwe demands that any tourist worth his or her salt must see it.
You will marvel at the well-laid-out cities and the tree-lined streets, especially in the affluent suburbs. Bulawayo, the second-largest city after the capital Harare, enchanted me with its beauty.
The Rhodesians, nasty in many aspects of their colonial rule, knew how to build cities after all - at least the part they lived in. They deserve praise for their town planning skills, and damnation for pushing the majority blacks into over-crowded shantytowns on the fringes of the cities. Mbare, a high-density, overcrowded suburb of Harare, is an eyesore.
Zimbabwe's natural sites are a must see. The mighty Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River which it shares with Zambia (why the two countries haven't changed the name to Mosi-Oa-Tunya - "the smoke that thunders" - its original Tonga name before David Livingstone "discovered" it, stands as a huge insult to the ancestors); the Bvumba Mountains near Mutare in the east, the pinkish-blue Chimanimani mountains on the Mozambican border, the serene Bridal Veil Falls near Chimanimani (a tiny but graceful speck compared with the Victoria Falls), the rolling and undulating mountains criss-crossing the country, the warmth of the people, the marvellous infrastructure - all add up to make Zimbabwe a beauty to behold.
Even the roads and the president are in tip-top shape. It was reported last year in Britain that if you saw Zimbabwean motorists driving in a zig-zag manner, they were not drunk; they were merely dodging potholes in the roads.
Having travelled over 4,200 kms across the country, I can say with some authority that there are more potholes in the street I live in, in Stanmore, Middlesex (UK), than I saw in all Harare. And Stanmore is regarded as one of London's more sumptuous suburbs.
I have written three letters in the past three years, trying in vain to get our local council, the London Borough of Harrow, to resurface the street. Each time the council has written back offering excuses. By the time I left for Zimbabwe on 21 March, there were 85 potholes in my street, which is less than a mile long. When I returned on 8 April, there were still about 40 potholes in the street, the council, in its infinite mercy, had come to patch some of them, the remainder no one knew when they would be filled. And Stanmore is not in Zimbabwe.
For those who care, Zimbabwe's president, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, 78, is in fine shape. Again, it was reported last year in London that Mugabe was so ill that he might even die before the presidential election. This gave some people great satisfaction.
Well, I have bad news for them. I met the president twice in two weeks. His doctors must have done a yeoman's job on him, for he is now in fine fettle. And even after the gruelling election campaign where he addressed 51 rallies as against Morgan Tsvangirai's 8, the "Old Man" still looks great for his age.
I interviewed him for nearly three hours, and he answered my questions like a young man who had just won his first term in office. The only complaint I heard from him was that I had deprived him of his lunch which he takes before 5 pm, he told me. And it was well past 7 pm, and the "Old Man" had come to the interview from a cabinet meeting that had lasted the whole morning and half of the afternoon.
Zimbabwe is stunningly ugly when it comes to the ownership of the land and the economy. It is generally said that 4,500 white commercial farmers own 70% of the best land in the country. But you have to see it with your own eyes to fully understand what that 70% translates into. The whites virtually own the country. The blacks, dispossessed of their land by the Rhodesians in colonial times, are just mere tenants in their "own" country.
They don't own the land - the descendants of the mainly British settlers who arrived in 1890 and pillaged their way across the country, own it.
They don't own the economy either. According to the records, black Zimbabweans own 4% of the economy, white Zimbabweans about 30%, and multi-nationals (mainly British) a whopping 66%.
If you don't own the land and don't own the economy, you are a tenant renting space in your own country and living at the sufferance of those who own it.
The only thing blacks own in abundance in Zimbabwe is running the government, and making the country safe for the owners to enjoy their lives, their big houses, manicured lawns, their golf, their businesses, their profits, and being served by their numerous black servants.
You must see the way some of the white farmers treat their black workers! It is almost like the days of slavery in the American south.
On one farm in the Raffingora area in the north of the country, the white farmers' big house on the hill has electricity. The crocodiles that are farmed beneath the hill have electricity. The butchery, about 80 metres away from the crocodile pens, has electricity. The general store, owned by the white farmer situated about 50 metres from the butchery, has electricity. But the farm manager (a black Zimbabwean) has no electricity in his "quarters", which is barely 20 metres away from the general store. And the black workers have no electricity in their flimsy rectangular dwellings abutting on the manager's accommodation.
The farm workers told me that their workday starts at 6.30 am and ends "between 6.30 pm and 7 pm". For all that trouble, they get Z$1,500 a month, which will buy just one lunch in some of the upmarket restaurants in Harare. At the most, they will get three meals in Harare from the Z$1,500.
It is a hard life. The workers told me that in the Raffingora area, some of the white farmers follow a 45-day month calendar, not 30 days. Thus, in an average year, the workers lose three months pay each.
"If you are employed on 1 January, you get your first pay on 15 February, and the cycle goes on," they told me. "At the end of the year, it adds up to three months lost pay. And we never get paid our full salary, never; because by the end of the month, we already owe the boss money that he takes out of our salaries before paying us."
It is an ugly system of employment and President Mugabe's government will have to do something about it. On the average, they told me, the highest paid farm worker in the country gets under Z$3,000 a month.
With the economy in poor state, inflation running high, and the local currency losing value (officially the "Zim dollar" is pegged at 55 to US$1, but the black market rate hovers around 300 to US$1), a salary of Z$3,000 a month for the 12-hour-days worked on the farm, is simply not worth the effort. It amounts to slave labour.
Some people in Harare actually believe that certain unseen foreign forces are largely responsible for the generalised collapse of the Zimbabwe economy. They say it all began "in the late morning of 14 November 1997, when over a four-hour period, the Zim dollar lost 74% of its value due to withdrawal by foreign currency speculators".
One European journalist based in Harare confirmed to me that, "although a quick decision by Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank to defend the currency on 14 November 1997 (ultimately requiring the recapture of foreign exchange held in corporate foreign currency accounts) restored a bit of the loss, the value of the Zim dollar fell from US$0.09 to US$0.025 over the course of a year."
As a result, he said, "unprecedented inflation was imported, leading to urban riots over maize and fuel price hikes in January and October 1998 respectively."
Since then, the economy has spiralled out of the government's control, to the point that there is now a severe shortage of foreign exchange in the country. Last year, this manifested itself in severe fuel shortages that crippled the country.
Though the fuel shortages are a thing of the past, the economy is still struggling. But then, which black African economy won't struggle if subjected (for three years) to Western sanctions (declared and undeclared) and behind-the-scene manipulation by foreign and local interests, like Zimbabwe's has been?
There are even local manufacturers who deliberately increase their prices or hoard their goods to create artificial shortages. And some white farmers are known to have destroyed their maize crop for political reasons or turned them into animal feed, instead of putting it in the human food chain.
On top of it, a debilitating drought rampaging across the whole of Southern Africa has led to shortages of maize (the staple food of the region) and causing starvation in some areas, including parts of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.
Land ownership in Zimbabwe is simply obscene! Even the famous Commonwealth Observer Mission's report that led to the recent suspension of Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth, admits:
"At the time of independence [in 1980], Zimbabwe's arable land was classified into five grades according to productivity, with the most productive cropland classified as Grade I and the least productive as Grave V. White farmers were allocated 78% of all Grade I and Grade II land. 75% of the land allocated to black small holders was Grade IV and V deemed fit mainly for the grazing of cattle."
Because of this grotesque system of land distribution, the blacks - the original owners of the land - were driven from their native areas to mainly rocky, sandy and low rainfall areas in the outback of the country now called "rural areas". These are low-grade lands barely able to support even subsistence farming. And yet the bulk of the country's 12 million people (the white population is put at just about 100,000) lives here, in utter congestion.
I went to see some of these "rural areas" in the Chivi district in Masvingo province, in Svosve in Mashonaland East (where in November 1997, the people, fed up with their land hunger, became the first to take the law into their own hands and seized some white land for themselves), and in Nyanga in the east, on the way to Mutare. It is a heart-breaking affair to see miles and miles of white-owned tree plantations and other white land lying fallow while millions of black people are congested, and barely making a living, in these rocky and sandy "rural areas".
Any direction you take from Harare - north, south, east and west - the story is the same. You drive through miles and miles and miles and miles of white owned land on both sides of the road as far as the eye can see. (In fact, "farm" as used in Zimbabwe is a misnomer. It is land, not farm).
Zimbabwe is the only African country I have seen where you don't see the Africans in the countryside. And you don't see the whites either. I hear South Africa is even worse, but I have not travelled the countryside of South Africa (I only know the cities).
Everywhere in the world, roads are built to connect people, that is the philosophy behind road building. In Zimbabwe, the Rhodesians built the roads to connect the cities (their centres of economic activity) and their sprawling farmlands.
The African areas (then called Native Reserves and later Communal Areas) were situated far away (on the average over 85 kms away) from the main highways. As a result, you drive for hours without seeing the blacks, except farm workers walking along the road or resting in the shade.
Yes, you may see a group of huts here and there, but these are dwellings of farm workers, not the bustling villages and towns you normally expect to see in the African countryside. Instead of the villages and towns, Zimbabwe has lay-bys every few kilometres where motorists can rest as they drive the huge distances between the cities.
We drove from Harare to Masvingo, 296 kms, on the Beitbridge road connecting South Africa. Apart from Chivhu (a small town of not much consequence), there is no town or village along the 296 kms stretch of road. All you see is just white-owned land on both sides of the road, as far as the eye can see.
As a Ghanaian in whose country you cannot drive 3 kms without coming across a bustling village or town, I was shocked to the marrow of my bone. It is absolutely unbelievable!
And remember, Zimbabwe is one-and-a-half times larger than both Ghana and Britain. These are huge farmlands we are talking about - 2,000 hectares on the average. "They are countries of their own," says one black farmer in the Raffingora area.
It is like driving from London (on the MI from Brent Cross) to Leeds (almost the same distance as from Harare to Masvingo), and there are no English villages, towns and cities along the way! The whole area, between London and Leeds, is owned by the descendants of the black people who arrived in 1890 and pillaged across the English heartlands.
As a result, starting from Brent Cross (concentrating only on the big towns and cities, and not the villages and small towns along the MI), you find no Mill Hill, no Edgware, no Watford, no Hemel Hempsted, no St Albans, no Redbourn, no Harpenden, no Dunstable, no Luton, no Milton Keynes, no Bedford, no Northampton, no Toddington, no Newport Pagnell, no Banbury, no Leamington Spa, no Rugby, no Coventry, no Birmingham, no Warwick, no Cosby, no Market Harborough, no Hinckley, no Leicester, no Loughborough, no Burton upon Trent, no Derby, no Nottingham, no Mansfield, no Chesterfield, no Aston, no Sheffield, no Rotherham, no Doncaster, no Barnsley, no Huddersfield, no Wakefield, no Dewsbury, no Halifax.
There is even no Manchester on the other side (on the M6) or Oldham or Bury or Wickham or Blackburn or Burnley or Preston or Bolton or Rochdale or Salford or Warrington or Stockport or Crewe or Stock on Trent or Newcastle upon Lyme or Stafford or Cannock, and on the M4 no Banbury, no Oxford, no High Wycombe.
It's just London and Leeds. And between the two cities, there is just black-owned farmland, spreading as far as the eye can see on both sides of the MI. It doesn't take much effort to imagine how the English people would accept this state of affairs.
In Ghanaian terms (where I come from), it is like driving from Accra to Kumasi and (concentrating on the big towns only), there are no Nsawam, Tafo, Anyinam, Koforidua, Kibi, Nkawkaw, Juaso, Konongo, Ejisu. It's just Accra and Kumasi, everything between the two cities is white-owned farmland, on both sides of the road, as far as the eye can see.
Or even between Accra and Half Assini on the coast, and there is no Winneba, no Senya Beraku, no Saltpond, no Cape Coast, no Elmina, no Sekondi, no Takoradi, no Dixcove, no Axim, no Esiama. Just white-owned farmland between Accra and Half Assini. Imagine how the Ghanaians would feel.
In Zimbabwe, from Gweru (the capital of the Midlands Province) to Harare, a distance of 275 kms, although there are four towns on the way (Kwekwe, Kadoma, Chegutu and Norton), every piece of land on both sides of the 275 kms is white owned (except a few kilometres of state land used by the army for training purposes).
It is the same story from Harare to Mutare (292 kms) in the east, and Raffingora (145 kms) in the north. It is a grotesque system of land ownership that has no right to exist.
And, what touches the heart most, because of the restrictions imposed by the Trespass Law passed in the Rhodesian days, the dispossessed Africans living near the sprawling white lands cannot even enter them to look for firewood, or hunt for game or fish, or even cut the tall grass to roof their houses. They would be arrested and prosecuted for trespassing if they did.
"Sometimes we use cow dung as fuel to cook our food," one woman told me in the Raffingora area. "We can't enter that land to look for firewood," she said, pointing to the sprawling white-owned land in front of us. "And I am supposed to be living in my own country," she added laconically.
She might as well leave and come to live in Kent, England. But from the way Britain is deporting Black Zimbabweans these days, the Raffingora woman has no chance of reaching Kent.
By the way, does the current humiliating treatment given to black Zimbabweans at Gatwick Airport have anything to do with their re-electing Mugabe? Or is it punishment for exercising their democratic right against British wishes? Or just plain revenge to make them feel sour about their government and country?
Before boarding the plane to Harare on 21 March, I saw dozens of black Zimbabweans of all ages and shapes (both male and female) being marched onto the plane by an equal number of British immigration officials at Gatwick. Thousands more have been stopped at Gatwick in recent months and deported to Harare in similar fashion.
On my return from Harare on 8 April, the Gatwick immigration would not even allow the passengers on the Air Zimbabwe flight to come into the concourse of the terminal. They met us as we stepped out of the plane, at the mouth of the tunnel leading to the concourse, and subjected us to long delays as they inspected our passports and papers.
I urge Prime Minister Tony Blair, his government and his opposition, who together are at the forefront of the Western attempts to crowd and confuse the core issue in Zimbabwe ("land is at the core of the crisis in Zimbabwe," says even the Commonwealth) by deliberately using fine words about democracy, good governance, transparency and human rights, to take a trip to Zimbabwe and travel the roads I travelled and see things for themselves. If they can come back to London and say the same things they have been saying about Zimbabwe for the past three years, they will not deserve to be in government.
After all, is the denial of black Zimbabweans' access to land (the source of all nourishment, in a country that is still mainly agrarian) not a violation of their basic human right? And why is that not a major concern of the West's?
There were alarming stories last year in the Western media about whites queuing to leave Zimbabwe. Well, judging from their big houses, their well-manicured golf courses, their control of business and industry (if not life itself in the country), they are not yet to go anywhere. In fact it would cost an arm and a leg to replicate that lifestyle anywhere. It is, therefore, in everybody's interest (both black and white) that the core issue in the country is resolved amicably for the common good and to secure the future.
For, the message from the street in the rural areas (it kept coming up in all the rural areas I visited) that any attempt to reverse the gains so far made on land reform will see the people taking up arms again. "We will fight and die for this land," the men and women I talked to, repeated in Chivi, in Raffingora, in Nyanga, in Victoria Falls, in Harare.
Life after the election
From the outside, Zimbabwe is a wild country gone mad. But in the two weeks that I criss-crossed the country, the nearest thing to violence that I saw was the waters of the Victoria Falls tumbling against the rocks below.
You even hardly see a policeman, except at the checkpoints on the main highways, the normal scene on African roads.
Yes, there was some violence in the run-up to the election and some people died. But you couldn't find any peaceful place on earth, after the election. And now, the people just want to carry on with their lives as best they can. They now appear to have seen through the foreign manipulation of their affairs and don't want to be part of it.
As a result, the three-day strike called immediately after the election by the once powerful trade unions (now aligned to the opposition MDC), was roundly ignored by the workers.
Equally, when the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA, another MDC-aligned group) called a demonstration on 6 April to compel the government to accept their new constitution for the country, the people ignored it too.
In fact, the police had denied the NCA permit to demonstrate, but the NCA had loudly insisted the demonstration would go ahead willy nilly. But come the day, and it was a damn squib - a clear message from the people that they are fed up with the power game and artificial conflicts.
A serious blight on the affairs of Zimbabwe that I discovered is the role of the private press and local NGOs funded by Western governments, individuals and institutions. The urge to justify the funding they are receiving distort the debate, exaggerate the issues and, in the end, harms the common good. Again, it will be in everybody's interest for the private press and NGOs to examine themselves.
Radical things to come
Meanwhile, the government's fast-track land reform programme is going ahead in full steam. According to the minister for lands and agriculture, Joseph Made, the government has already resettled a total of 313,000 families, which translates into 969,000 people, and that there are more radical things in the pipeline.
For example, he said, maximum farm sizes will soon be introduced throughout the country, and that the government's earlier policy of "one man one farm" irrespective of size has been abandoned.
"That is no more. We have looked at farm sizes around the world," Made said. "In USA farms for cropping (in terms of family ownership) is between 200 and 250 hectares. Leased land for businesses is 3,000 hectares. In the UK, the average farm size is 65 hectares; France 38 hectares, Germany 50 hectares.
"In Zimbabwe, some farms are over 3,000 hectares, 7,000 hectares. Some are even 15,000 and 20,000 hectares. Yet on the average, only 40% of this land is being actively used. Technically speaking, we have land lying idle that needs to be used to drive the economy."
He cited the example of the biggest coffee producer in the country who has 2,000 hectares of land but is only actively using 75 hectares.
"President Bush's ranch in Texas is 600 acres big," Made said. "In Zimbabwe, the Oppenheimer ranch is 300,000 hectares, made up of trees, trees, trees. They say they have 21,000 animals on it. We say fine, but we are going to be very, very technical from now on.
"These are issues of justice. We cannot allow a small group of people in the country to deny the majority the use of a major national resource as land. Anybody (black, white or yellow) who wants to use land should be given the right to do so. And this is what we are going to do."
Regarding land in white hands, 40% is owned by individual whites, and 60% by multinationals. Made said the government had recently discovered "unknown land owned by whites" but which was not previously covered by any official records. "They thought the liberation government would be defeated some day, and the 'unknown land' won't be known," Made added, a bit of truimphalism in his voice.
He said the following "maximum farm sizes" would be introduced for all areas:
* Grade I land, 250 hectares (or 700 acres)
* Grade IIa, 350 hectares
* Grade IIb, 400 hectares
* Grade III, 500 hectares
* Grade IV, 1,500 hectares
* Grade V, 2,000 hectares (for grazing).
Which means, farmers who currently hold more than 250 hectares in the Grade I (best land, highest rainfall areas) would forfeit the rest of their sprawling farmlands to the state for redistribution to the landless. It is certainly going to be a controversial policy, as some farmers are known to have over 5,000 hectares. In the Raffingora area in the north, the current average farm size is 2,000 hectares.
"They accuse us of not doing anything on land reform for 21 years. We are now going to do it in two months," Made added.
As he was speaking to me in Harare, President Olusegun Obasanjo was also telling Nigerians that land redistribution in Zimbabwe would have started much earlier in 1990 had African leaders not intervened, fearing that it would damage the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.
"When negotiations were going on in Lancaster House [in London], land was on the negotiating table," Obasanjo said in his monthly TV programme, Media Chat, on 31 March.
"By 1990, when the Zimbabwean government moved to amend the constitution on the [land] issue, we advised Mugabe that he should move gently. That was because what he chose to do would affect South Africa's case. And he didn't do anything until 1997," the Nigerian president told the nation.
After all the hoohah over the election, there appears to be exciting and positive times ahead of Zimbabwe.
· · · · · ·
The Anti-Mugabe Brigade - by Gilles d'Aymery
Wholly Derelict Journalism: Letter to the Editor - by Alex Jay Berman
My Journalistic Dereliction: Response to Mr. Berman's Letter - by Gregory Elich
Zimbabwe Under Siege - by Gregory Elich
Baffour Ankomah, is the Editor of New African, a British-based magazine published by IC Publications, an international publications company, founded in London 40 years ago. With offices in New York and Paris, the IC group specializes in producing newsletters, magazines, special supplements and reports on Africa and the Middle East. In addition to New African the IC Group publishes two other magazines, African Business and The Middle East. In April 2002, Baffour Ankomah made a "world exclusive interview" with President Mugabe which was published in the May issue of New African. Parts of the interview was extensively reported by all the major agencies - AFP, Reuters, BBC, CNN and scores of other newspapers and magazines around the world. Finally, New African will publish excerpts of Gregory Elich's article, Zimbabwe Under Siege, in its October issue. Ankomah's article was first published in the May 2002 issue of the magazine. It is republished here with the generous and kind courtesy of the author.
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