Zimbabwe: Tension between farmers undermines productivity

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

HARARE, 8 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Five years after Zimbabwe's land redistribution programme began, tension still characterises relationships between white and black farmers.

Although most of Zimbabwe's white commercial farmers were removed from their farms to make way for landless blacks during the government's fast-track land reform programme, a few have remained on their land.

The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), which represents the interests of its mostly white members, estimates that between 500 and 600 of them continue to operate in the country, down from a total of 4,500 prior to the start of the land redistribution campaign in 2000.

Tim Price, 69, is one of the few who managed to hold onto some land. He was left with 300 ha of the 1,000 ha farm he used to own in Mashonaland West province's Chakari district, where he grew a variety of crops, among them maize, wheat and paprika, and also reared pigs and chickens. He now produces only paprika and maize because of the reduced size of his farm.

Price counted himself lucky to be able to continue farming, when the majority of commercial white farmers were displaced, but he has become somewhat disillusioned.

"I would say sharing a farm with the new farmers was a noble idea, but co-existence with them is proving to be difficult," Price told IRIN. "There is so much tension between them and me, and from what I gather from my colleagues in the farming community, the situation is bad elsewhere."

Two months ago, he said, there was a misunderstanding between him and the new farmers on the neighbouring plots when they approached him and asked to use his tractors for winter ploughing.

"I told them that, in principle, I would have no problem with that, but I had to finish work on my own plot before giving them the tractors. I also indicated to them that, in these days of fuel shortages, it might also be difficult for them to get the kind of help they expected on time," Price said.

However, the new farmers' delegation mistook his words for arrogance and that evening, youths camped outside his house and sang songs denouncing him as a racist. Their protest ended only when he compromised and promised to lend them a tractor for a fee.

But Price said the new farmers were now refusing to pay him for the use of his tractor, and were, instead, threatening to invade his plot.

Davison Mugabe, president of the black-dominated Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers' Union (ZCFU), admitted that relations between the remaining white farmers and their black counterparts have been strained.

"The situation is sad, and we don't encourage that because it is agricultural production that suffers when the farmers fail to co-exist," he told IRIN. "However, there are high-powered manoeuvres between government and the farming community, and we expect to come up with a policy statement that spells out the best way for interaction on the farms."

A member of the CFU said the tension between black and white farmers was largely due to suspicion that arose from the manner in which the land reform programme was carried out.

In 2000, veterans of the war against colonialism led thousands of landless blacks onto commercial farms and forcefully removed the white farmers.

Several people died in clashes during the redistribution process, which was roundly condemned by bodies such as the Commonwealth and led to the suspension of Zimbabwe's membership in 2002, on the grounds of human rights abuses.

Farming equipment was also vandalised and hundreds of animals killed.

"The violent manner in which the land reform exercise took place is largely to blame for the suspicion and, in some instances, hate between the white farmers and the new farmers. Largely, the white farmers blame the new farmers for torture, theft of their equipment and rape.

"And we are aware of newly resettled farmers who say the whites collaborated with their farmworkers to beat them up when they moved onto the farms, while accusing them of denying them the right to own prime farmland for a long time," said the CFU member, who owns a ranch in Matebeleland province.

Before the land reform programme, the minority white population owned 75 percent of productive land, while the black majority was crowded into overused land, mostly in communal areas, to which they were moved during colonial rule.

Denford Chimbwanda, president of the Grain and Cereal Producers Association (GCPA), blamed new farmers for "asking for too much" from the remaining white farmers, who also needed help.

"I am a black farmer myself, but I think some new farmers should take the blame for demanding too much from their white colleagues and, to make matters worse, they go to them in large numbers. I accept that some of these new farmers do not have implements, but they should not assume that their white compatriots have an obligation to help them for nothing in return, because farming is a business in which one needs to operate viably," Chimbwanda told IRIN.

He urged new farmers not to view white farmers as racist when they could not help them, and pointed out that there were some farmers who lived together peacefully.

A significant number of displaced white farmers have relocated to other African countries, notably Nigeria, Zambia and Mozambique, where they have been farming successfully.

The governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has expressed the desire to get some specialist white farmers - most of whom have yet to be paid compensation for the farms they lost - back onto the land to boost production and improve foreign currency earnings through agricultural exports.

Although relations between the farmers remain strained, the CFU member was positive that peaceful co-existence was possible.

"It might be difficult to remove the suspicion now, but with goodwill from everybody and determination on the part of politicians," he said, "it is still possible to mend fences and live on the farms as fellow Zimbabweans."


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