Land reform brings prosperity to black Zimbabweans

The land of Zimbabwe is beautiful, rich, fertile and the country’s lifeline. For decades, battles have been fought on the land and for the land. It’s about who should control it. Several thousand white farmers dominated the country’s agriculture. Black …

The land of Zimbabwe is beautiful, rich, fertile and the country’s lifeline. For decades, battles have been fought on the land and for the land. It’s about who should control it. Several thousand white farmers dominated the country’s agriculture. Black Zimbabweans felt they were not getting their fair share.

In 2000, war veterans started invading the land owned by white farmers, who settled there during the colonial era.

Mugabe encouraged a campaign of intimidation and violence to force white famers out – and critics say, to divert attention from a political challenge.

The strongest agricultural economy in southern Africa collapsed. There are now only a handful of white farmers left. Most farms are now black owned.

Sanctions
In response, Western countries led by Britain imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe and as a result the country’s economy collapsed. Millions of Zimbabweans fled the country to seek a better life elsewhere.

Zimbabweans have certainly paid a huge price over the land reform dispute. But many black farmers feel the sacrifice was well worth it.

For Percy, farming is in his blood – he started working for a white farmer in 1977. He’s always wanted to own his own piece of land but found it impossible. Percy claims land was too expensive and blacks couldn’t get loan from banks. Soon after the land reform was introduced in 2000, he applied and was allocated a farm. Now he’s a big boss, making big money from tobacco.

“At the moment, I employ 60 people… the busy time up to 120,” he told me as he inspected his staff working on the production line.

Percy says the former owner of his farm shook hands, handed over the keys and left on good terms.

“As far as I know, the farmer who used to own this farm left nicely, without any harm at all. He went to South Africa. We are not taking any land from anybody. It was our land in the first place.”

Penny, another farmer, was born into a farming family but says, like most black Zimbabweans, it was too expensive for him to buy any land.

Because of the land reform, he was allocated a 6-hector farm in 2002.

Four years later, he applied for a bigger plot and was subsequently given a 110-hectare farm. He grows staple crops like wheat, maize and cabbage.

To me land reform is one of the best things that has happened to me. It has changed my life definitely. Penny, a black Zimbabwean farmer
“I used to think that I was in business selling bananas. Now I can see that was not business. Unfortunately, I think land reform came a bit late: when I was getting old. Because if I was young I would have reached the sky.”

Female farmers
Spiwe is one of thousands of female farmers, who have benefited from the land redistribution, as part of the empowerment of women. She was living in a rented accommodation in the capital Harare with her husband and five children.

The family was struggling before they were given a 250-hectare plot in 2007.

“There was nothing. The white man who was here collected everything. He left nothing at the ground. If you hear someone saying farming isn’t good is lazy. Play with mud: you make money.”

Unemployment
But not everyone is making money from the land. Charles Taffs is the president of Commercial Farmers Union, representing mainly white farmers. To him and his members, land reform has been disastrous.

Charles said: “Look at our GDP, for example, look at the unemployment, and look at the exodus of people. There’s no secret that 3-4 million people living in South Africa. Why? Why they are living there if this is a success story. Why we importing food 14 years; this is the 15th year will be importing food on a consecutive basis. Why? It’s not working.”

For the black majority however, it’s working. They say Zimbabwe’s economy is now on the up. With lots of cash from tobacco, Percy has invested in property; purchasing several houses in Harare. He ploughs that capital into the farm buying six new tractors to maximise productivity.

“I think it’s more productive now, to be honest, this piece of land. I know the guy who used to live here, used to grow about 30 hectares of tobacco. I’m growing 60 and equally as professional, as him.”

At the beginning of the land reform, people doubted whether black farmers like Percy would be as successful as white farmers. After a bumpy start, the new land-owners feel they have exceeded expectations. They are now entering other sectors, creating much needed employment and boosting the economy.

‘We are here forever’
That’s what Penny has done. He bought a compound and wants to turn it into a hotel complex. His expanding business meant that his son Franco returned from the UK after seven years.

“For myself it’s more beneficial to be here rather than in the UK,” said Franco. “I can’t say I’m going to set up roots in the UK because in the end I’ll eventually come back. So I would rather have something to come back to; a strong base here in Zimbabwe, which is where my home is.”

Black Zimbabweans felt the country was not fully independent without the land reform. They feel they have now achieved that.

Spiwe said: “Never ever this country will go back to the white people. We are here forever. We are here forever. Because Zimbabweans are happy with this reform program. There are only those few people, those lazy people who want this country to go back to the white people.

“We say forward with this Government of Robert Mugabe.”