Zim's 50 shades of land reform: Boers making a plan

2013-08-04 14:00

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Zimbabwe’s land reform programme was depicted by the media as a catastrophe for the country’s white farmers, and it was for the majority of them, both financially and emotionally.

But the overwhelming media focus on the plight of the whites has obscured the emergence of a new class of white farmers, typically in their 30s or early 40s, who have negotiated lease deals with large-scale Zimbabwean beneficiaries of land reform.

I visited a community of these farmers near Chinhoyi, where the growing number of white farmers has enabled the reopening of the old district country club. Here, fair-haired kids play around brand-new Land Cruisers in scenes reminiscent of the white-farmer heyday of the 1990s.

These farmers live with their families in the farmhouses of the former white owners, but plant tobacco on lands they did not clear, often irrigating their crops with equipment abandoned in the chaos of land reform.

For these advantages, Zimbabwe’s white sharecroppers pay the new and usually politically connected “beneficiary” an end-of-season earnings dividend of around 5%, which is steep when one considers that the white farmers are taking all the risk.

But with Zimbabwean tobacco fetching consistently high prices since 2010, the white lessees can still afford to both pay off their landlords and to live like lords themselves.

It hardly matters to these farmers that their activities have been condemned by the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) in the strongest terms.

Wayne van Rooyen*, who is sharecropping on a farm near Lion’s Den, said: “The CFU is no longer an agricultural union, they’re a restitution lobby for farmers who have lost their land, which is fine, but they mustn’t then presume to preach to farmers who are still on the land.

“It is terrible what happened to the older generation, but we can’t be expected to put our own lives on hold while they attempt to sort their issues out. We have families to feed too.”

For both the 300-400 remaining white Zimbabwean farmers and the 175?000 new black Zimbabwean farmers, land reform may well have been black and white to begin with, but it has since fragmented into thousands of shades of grey, and the government will have to acknowledge these if it is to avoid inflicting further social, economic and environmental damage on the country.

*?Not his real name

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