Philip Barclay and Grace Mutandwa


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Tuesday 28 April, 2009

If you want to survive you make a plan Zimbabwe style

What does a man who for more than three decades has drawn his livlihood from the soil, suddenly finds himself deprived of that soil do?

If you are Eric Harrison, you resist for a while and then pack whatever you can of your belongings that you are allowed to take, record whatever remains and take as many pictures as you can as evidence and move on.

Turfed off his citrus and sugarcane farm in Zimbabwe's Mkwasine, south-east of the country in 2004, Eric was heartbroken but he refused to let go of hope. He fought in courts,lost, appealed in vain and then sat down to write a book, Jambanja (Shona for chaos). The book details what he went through with his farm workers when his farm was invaded by a school head and some law enforcement agents.

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a day with Eric to find out what a former commercial farmer's options of a new way of survival are. For a 70 year old, he is still very energetic and brimming with ideas of sustainable agriculture.

I accompanied him to a place where with a group of colleagues who also lost their farms, he has started a compost and worm farming venture. A small team of enthusiastic young men help with the project.

Eric and his team have come up with a way of making highly nutritious compost for crops. Introducing some earth worms into the compost gives it more nutrients.They also make a compost tea that can be used as a fertiliser. He works with rural communal farmers encouraging them to depend more on compost than artificial fertilisers.

In the capital, Eric has helped residents of the low density suburb of Monavale to start a compost making venture at the Monavale vlei. The Conservation Society of Monavale is made up of home owners and workers who through financial support from the UNDP are working flat out to protect the rare species of birds and small creatures found in the vlei.

Eric lost his farm and amazingly he is not a bitter man. He has moved on and is giving back to society in a way many in his position would find difficult to do. At the height of the government sponsored land invasions, many farmers like Eric found themselves homeless and with no means of income. Some left the country but others started buying and selling goods in short supply while others made and sold furniture.

Today the farm invasions have come back as strong and violent as ever. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai seems unable to stop them. He has appointed a task force led by Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur Mutambara who with a group of ministers from both MDC and Zanu PF visited the farms currently under siege.

At one of the farms the team saw tens of thousands of kilogrammes of fruit for export rotting. The farmer, Ben Freeth has been prevented from entering his packing shed in the past few weeks because of the ongoing invasion. His entire property has become a looting ground and campsite for the invaders.

Mutambara told the invaders to leave and allow Freeth, his family and workers carry on with the business of farming. As soon as Mutambara turned his back, the invaders were back and chasing away workers.

Away from Freeth another farm is also under siege. This is despite the fact that the farm is supposed to be "protected" by a Bi-lateral Investment Protection Agreement. Court orders to uphold the agreement have been ignored.

Farmers and their employees have no protection under the country's laws. If they dare to report to the police, they risk being jailed under trumped up charges as the guilty go scot-free to continue with their looting and persecution of farmers.

As the lawlessness on the farms escalates, we have the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and our political leaders calling on the international community to come to the rescue of Zimbabwe.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick recently told reporters that; "Zimbabwe is at a very sensitive point and we want it to succeed. But it is going to require steps by all the members of Zimbabwe's institutions to restore democracy and human rights."

At the Bank's forthcoming Spring meetings, it is hard to think Zimbabwe will have taken any steps to re-introduce the rule of law, respect of property rights and other basic human rights.

Politicians in ZANU PF claim they want this country to prosper. They believe the only way to do so is through taking from one group to give another. At independence in 1980, this country might not have had equitable land distribution but it could feed and create employment for its people.

Today white farmers are criminalised. We want to become wealthy by reaping where we did not sow. During the liberation struggle, combatants had a song that encouraged people to pay for whatever they took. It was a song urging strong values. Today that song has been turned on its head.

Commander of ZANU PF's military wing the late Josiah Magama Tongogara must be turning in his grave. For him, yes, the war had been about equitable land redistribution and also about eradicating a racial system.

We have not learnt from our past. Blacks were subjected to untold racism. In their own country they became second class citizens, with no rights. Today our leaders who once earned international accolades by espousing the spirit of reconciliation, are subjecting their own citizens to the same oppressive system.

We have white Zimbabweans who have this country as their only home. They have put their love and sweat into the soil. They toiled to help get the country into the shape it was at independence but now they are treated as outcasts. One is in the slammer right now and some of his farm workers are lying in hospital nursing wounds from police guns.

The world unfortunately is watching as all this goes on. The world might hold itstongue but it will not open its bank vaults to people who believe they are not accountable to anyone.

Our politicians have to start facing up to their short-comings. They should take responsibility for what is going on on the farms. They should accept that not everyone they are trying to pay off with this or that farm is a farmer. Farms mean a lot of commitment and hardwork. They are not weekend getaways or family holiday resorts.

People like Harrison and Freeth invested all they had to turn their farms into what they had become before the looting began.

Having an inclusive government will not automatically encourage the international community to mobilise money for Zimbabwe.

By preaching one thing and doing exactly the opposite our political leaders are only ensuring that no country with a conscience will come to our rescue. Our democracy, human rights and good governance balance sheet is in the red. No outsider is responsible for the mess the country is in. We brought it on ourselves.

Our politicians should realise that they can not demand to have their travel restrictions lifted when they have outlawed basic human rights. They can not demand help from free-thinking nations when they refuse to nurture diversity, freedom of expression and freedom of association.

No group of people must feel demonised. No section of the community must live in fear of being assaulted, falsely imprisoned or refused the right to earn a living honestly. No Zimbabwean must e above the law. All citizens must be protected irrespective of thei rrace, colour or political persuasion. Farmers must be allowed to do what they know best - producing for the nation and export markets.

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Why has SADC been so useless? I hope that one day, after all this disastrous chaos has ended, Zimbabwe's neighbours will pause and reflect on the admirable example that the brave people within Zimbabwe who have never given up and given in to Mugabe have set them.

Posted by OwenE2 on May 01, 2009 at 02:06 PM BST #

Looking at Zim and other Africa horror stories, I ask myself - in whos interest is this chaos which Africa experience? It was the world media who forced old African Governments down, and today again it is the same media who report on the horror which followed. The only accountebility is for stories to sell, not the grave yards it leave behind. Today, the media is abused as weapon to destroy individuals and nations. Human rights violations via the media is always overlooked and in my opinion the situation give grounds for a classification worse than weapon of mass destruction. In such case many other human rights will go down the drain such as freedom of speech. Who can we then held accountable?

Posted by Petronella du Toit on May 01, 2009 at 02:17 PM BST #

We left South Africa for fear that SA would become a "Zimbabwe", it's got all the same ingredients to become one of the same and we just didn't want to risk it. I'd love to move back if it were not for the crime and the lack of short term prospects for young white males.

Posted by Chris Angus on May 11, 2009 at 03:19 PM BST #

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