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Ex-farmer tells ED: “Who comes back to a farm that you vandalized for 20 years?”

By Staff Writer

An exiled businessman and former farmer who lost his farm during the land invasions of 1999 to 2003 has said efforts by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to lure back farmers onto the land will fail because the farms now look like they were in 1900: vandalized, barren and wasted after 20 years of neglect.

“It’ll be like starting all over again, and who honestly wants that?” Dr. David Jesse told Zimbabwe Voice. “After two decades of turmoil, Zimbabwe has had eight currencies, 540% per month inflation, no water, no petrol, no food, no electricity, no medicines and no independent judiciary and complete absence of any rule of law. Who comes back to such a country?

“This latest ‘wish and a prayer’ legislation is not a ‘fix all’ for the country’s woes. It will be surprising if it elicits any response whatsoever from those in the diaspora or the international community,” Dr Jesse said.

A former farmer stands outside what used to be his farm infrastructure in this 2016 photo. Virtually all infrastructure has collapsed at most formerly thriving farms.

Zimbabwe is officially trading in the local RTGS dollar, but the US dollar is creeping back into the market. Prices also differ is one is paying via mobile money platform EcoCash, swipe and other soft currencies.

Two weeks ago, government gazetted new legislation under which former landowners may opt for repossession or monetary compensation. The new regulations will apply to indigenous farmers whose farms were appropriated, as well as to those whose land was protected by bilateral treaties.

Several countries, among them South Africa, Austria, France, Germany, Mauritius, Holland, Sweden and Malaysia, had signed investment protection agreements with Zimbabwe at the time.

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Ben Freeth, with Peter Asani (left) and Sinos Bois (right), who worked for him on the farm, inspects graffiti on the ruins CREDIT: COURTESY OF BEN FREETH

Of those covered by bilateral treaties, South Africans were the worst affected, according to the Commercial Farmers Union in Zimbabwe, as over 200 farmers lost their land.

Said Dr. Jesse: “It’s taken 20 years to completely destroy and denude Zimbabwe resulting in 8 currencies, 540% per month inflation, no water, no petrol, no food, no electricity, no medicines and no independent judiciary and complete absence of any rule of law.  

“It is an anarchy ruled by despots and the rapacious and the greedy. The farms are desolate wastelands now. Homesteads are gone, fencing is gone. Dams have been destroyed or silted up, infrastructure is now non-existent and there is no sign of livestock or natural habitat and all wild life has been eviscerated. 

“What do I return to? What about my home, my machinery, my livestock, my infra structure, my labour (whom I loved); my community? Is government going to replace that?” he fumed.

In this file photo from 2002, Dup Muller, 59, a commercial farmer in Headlands, 110 kilometers, (70 miles) East of Harare, stands in the burned out ruins of his farm house, which was attacked by war veterans enforcing a government order for whites to leave their farms. AARON UFUMELI—AFP/Getty Images

Even if someone wants compensation instead of getting back onto the farm, the new legislation does not automatically grant compensation. Any application may be rejected “on the basis that granting it would be contrary to the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, regional or town planning or the general public interest”, according to the gazetted regulations. 

To former farmers like Dr. Jesse, it is not just a matter of getting back onto the land. He says whole communities have been destroyed and the neighbours and friends he knew are dead or have fled to other countries, so he sees no point of returning again “as though it’s 1900.”

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He said: “In addition to the micro economies of the district villages like Unvukwes, Bindura and Banket completely disappearing, so have the road infrastructure and macro economy of Zimbabwe cities. 

“More importantly, so have my neighbours, friends and family.

“What do I come home to? A barren wasteland and start from scratch as though its 1900’s again? This applies to whites and blacks – 6 million in the diaspora.

“All this aside Zanu-PF will still terrorise anyone who disagrees with it and murder, rape and torture its people. What do I have to look forward to?

“Colonial outposts of beer swilling, black hating whites, like Victoria Falls still exist too. We don’t want them either.

Another former farmer shows the shells that used to be his thriving farm in this 2009? photo.

“So what’s changed? Nothing and there is simply nothing to go back to. 

“Until there is a moderate middle of the road inclusive government and all the ‘old guard’ (especially ex military) on both sides are gone, the West will persist with sanctions and Zimbabwe will remain a an economic wasteland. No hope, no future.”

Despite droughts that have befallen the southern African country several times since year 2000, land reform has been blamed for Zimbabwe’s failure to feed itself, with the country resorting to imports and international help. 

The United Nations World Food Programme plans to double the number of Zimbabweans that it assists, up to 4.1 million, and will require over $200 million to meet needs in the first half of 2020 alone. – Zimbabwe Voice

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