The Story Of The Zimbabwean Land Seizures:
15 May 2020
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?? André Alkema: The story of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse begins in 1997, the 14th of November 1997, a day that is now known as “Black Friday” in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe currency lost 75% of its value against the US$ in one day. Why?. Facing pressure from the war veterans, always crucial to the ruling ZANU-PF’s grip on power, the Mugabe Government had earlier in 1997 announced unbudgeted pension payouts that amounted to 3% of National GDP, or in more frightening terms, 55% of the previous year’s total budget. This was the first fundamental error leading to Zimbabwe’s collapse.

The failing economy from 1997 onwards, led to international isolation in economic terms with, both World Bank and IMF suspending credit lines as they believed Zimbabwe could not afford the debt bill that would be incurred by lending more money to Zimbabwe. Investors saw the economic instability as hi-risk and withdrew capital and stopped investing in projects. ??

Between the unbudgeted pension payouts and the gazetted land acquisition plans, foreign capital took flight and within months, the Zimbabwe Reserve bank had run out of foreign capital reserves. After trying to raise taxes to fund the programmes, the price of sadza (Maize Meal), a staple food, went up and food riots followed in the capital city of Harare. 841 farmers resisted to attempts to grab their farms via the Courts, the other 630 farms were acquired by the State at market rate and immediately put under subsistence farming, again due to a lack of collateral value and commercial farming skills amongst the new tenants.

In February of 2000, the newly formed MDC, openly supported by white farmers resisting acquisition, defeated the Government in Referendum on Constitutional Amendments, one of which was to allow the Government to seize farms without compensation for the land, improvements were to be compensated at State determined rates. The turnout for the referendum was 26%, the government had never faced opposition before, and believed they would win comfortably. They lost 54% to 46%. ZANU-PF panicked, as June 2000, just 4 months away, was the deadline for General Elections.

Within weeks, war veterans started invading white owned farms in small numbers across the country. The High Court ruled the land invasions to be illegal. The Police refused to intervene in most cases, as they declared the matter was “political”, not criminal. Most farmers fled once their farms were invaded, those who resisted were killed, 12 in total. 78 black Farm Managers were killed during this period as well. The first farmer killed, just before Easter 2000, in the town of Macheke, 140km East of Harare, was David Stevens also an MDC activist, kidnapped, tortured and shot dead by a mob, whilst Police looked on. The war veterans drank his blood after killing him.

On April 18th 2000, Martin Olds refused to surrender his farm and was shot dead near Nyamandlovu, 25 km outside Bulawayo. Martin Olds was not politically affiliated, he was murdered by a mob of 40 men armed with new AK47’s.
Martin Olds was murdered the day after Mugabe said on National Television of whites “Our present state of mind is that you are now our enemies because you really have behaved as enemies of Zimbabwe”. We are full of anger”.

Not one person was ever charged with the killing of a white farmer or a black Farm Manager. A white farmer’s brother, Blondie Bezuidenhout, who ran over and killed 2 invaders who tried to block his way off the family farm, was jailed for 12 years for culpable homicide. He served 8 years in prison. ??

A neighbouring farmer, was quoted as saying “The Commercial Farmers Union” (CFU) is telling us that we must not resist or there will be a bloodbath. But as far as I am concerned, as a third generation Zimbabwean, I can’t just stand there if someone comes to my farm with guns. We have been told the Police will not help. Now we are going to start defending ourselves.”

Divided we fell, one by one, as we never stood united.

It should also be noted that no CPF or Commando systems existed in Zimbabwe. The South African Government’s scrapping of the Commando system in 2003 was a deliberate act designed to weaken farmer security, and it was passed with the lie being told that a special Police Unit would be established to handle this. This news was received in Zimbabwe, now 2 years into land invasions, with disbelief, and the wide spread view, that the South African Government ?? was planning the same course of action with its own white farmers.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF “won” the June 2000 elections with a 2/3rds majority and amended the Zimbabwe Constitution to allow for seizure of land without compensation, but still with compensation for improvements.

The amendments did NOT permit Court Appeals against procedurally correct expropriation. Very few farmers ever received compensation for improvements, and those that did, tell that the value was heavily understated by Government Officials doing inspections. ??

Local Land Affairs Offices were established and corruption ruled the day. Farmers who won Court Orders to have their lands returned due to failures to follow procedures, found the Police would not enforce the Court Orders. ? Judges who ruled in favour of farmers were quickly forced to retire, usually by death threats, and replaced with ZANU-PF Judges who were quickly granted seized farms for their own use. The newly loaded Benches gave appealing farmers a hostile reception.

For every white farmer kicked off the farms, along went 100 workers and family members. These workers and dependants were never considered for land from the Government Land Reform Process, as they were seen to be supporters of the farmers and MDC opposition party. Most of these folks had never lived anywhere else and were now suddenly homeless.

Within months of being forced in a Government of National Unity by SADC leaders, after an election 2008, Mugabe admitted in 2015, on national television that he had lost resoundingly, the Zimbabwe Dollar was scrapped. The only investments that survived the hyper inflationary period was property investments, and gold, illegal but widely available. ??

Mugabe once stated that only white farmers with multiple farms would be targeted, however he quickly realised the lie, in his own propaganda, that many farmers have no multiple farms. ??

Cabinet Ministers accumulated multiple farms, and traded other farm allocations for cash and favours, Mugabe and his family claimed 12 farms, Military and Police top-dogs, were also awarded numerous farms. In 95% of the cases, the farms were simply looted of whatever assets that could be found, tin shed roofs stripped to build huts, fences sold as scrap wire, or used as snares to trap game on seized game farms.

So continues a sad story that started as a bread basket for the region, and ended as a begging bowl within the region, all because a liberation movement ran out of ways to keep it’s voters happy, and decided to strip a minority of what they had, and spread it across an ever increasing support base, in a vote buying exercise. And once the farms were finished, they started with white owned businesses, and all mining companies. ??

To quote a now exiled farmer, “We tried to appease them by giving what they wanted. When they wanted it all, we had two choices, die defending our lands, or move on and try to survive somewhere else. The world turned its eyes away from us, as they did in the 1980’s when Mugabe butchered 20 000 Ndebeles in Matabeleland. We stood alone, and fell alone, most of us simply packed up and left.”

The author is a former Zimbabwean farmer who has requested anonymity. ??