I have never been a farmer or had much sympathy with white farmers who in my experience were often racist in their attitudes and generally treated their African workforce badly. Two events helped to soften my attitude: one was the killing of the white farmer, David Stevens and the brutal assault on the other farmers who went to his rescue. That incident took place in my own hometown and the killers were all known and recognised. The second event that affected me directly was the invasion of my own daughter's farm. Hers was one of the first to be invaded back in 2000. I will never forget the sight of my daughter, hand in hand with her small son; he carrying his little suitcase on their way to school as his mum tried to keep his life as normal as possible in the midst of the fear and chaos all around him, with strange men shouting and drumming at the farm gates. Nine years later the so-called 'land reform' programme is still going on, though it's quite clear that what is happening now has little to do with 'land reform' - if it ever did.
Speaking on February 28th this year, one month after the Global Agreement was signed, Robert Mugabe told a gathering of his supporters that white people who wanted to remain in Zimbabwe must do so on his terms and not oppose the seizure of their land. “ If they want to go we will open the borders for them. We will give them a police escort.” In those two sentences, Mugabe tells us what this final stage of 'land reform' is really all about. White people are only permitted to remain in the country if they are prepared to live under his rules. Whether or not Mugabe is a racist himself hardly matters but he is a vengeful man. His intention is to clear out the last remaining white farmers, not to free up the land to grow desperately needed food, but to dish out more patronage. We should never forget that Mugabe and Zanu PF are in election mode. Anyone who opposes him, black or white, is regarded as the 'enemy' and must be punished. Over the last nine years thousands of people have been the targets of vicious attacks by Green Bombers, questionable war veterans and other assorted Zanu PF thugs, all ably assisted by the police who, if not actually participating, have turned a blind eye to patently criminal behaviour. Mugabe has rewarded them, the police, the judges and magistrates with stolen farms. It is the classic 'politics of patronage' and Mugabe's coterie of elderly Zanu PF comrades from the Liberation Struggle have been his willing accomplices.
Now, in April 2009, with a so-called Government of National Unity in place, the farm invasions continue unabated as the vultures gather to devour what remains of the carcass of commercial farming. It is impossible to see the suffering in the face of Mike Campbell or hear the weary despair in his son-in law's voice as he describes their ordeal and not feel pity for their plight. What crime have they committed, apart from having a white skin and successful farming operations, which some greedy 'big man' now has in his sights? The truth is that Mike Campbell and Ben Freeth dared to challenge Robert Mugabe in the courts and were successful. A SADC tribunal ruling clearly found in the farmers' favour but that means nothing to Robert Mugabe. Such rulings, he says, cannot override Zimbabwean law. The farmers have nowhere to turn for justice; a farmer's wife is arrested by the police and openly told that she is the 'bait' to flush her husband out of hiding so that they can charge and prosecute him, for daring to remain on his own farm, presumably? Farm workers are imprisoned without charge and tortured to extract information by a police force that has become a law unto itself. The maintenance of law and order, the protection of the citizens is no longer their concern; all they are concerned with now is to keep Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF in power.
Despite their appeals to the MDC 'partners' in this sham of a Unity Government, the farmers can get no help even from the party that promised to bring the farm invaders to justice. When is the MDC leadership going to find the moral courage to do the right thing? They should be there on the farms to see for themselves the anguish of the farmers and their workers and to order the police to do their duty and arrest the wrong doers. Instead, the police continue unchecked as they have for the past nine years; the guilty are set free on the orders of some 'big man' in Zanu PF. And meanwhile, all the MDC top brass can do is to echo Mugabe's call for the lifting of sanctions – whose existence the MDC was denying until they entered government - and the restoration of relations with the west as if none of this chaos on the farms is happening.
'There are no farm invasions' Zanu PF ministers assure foreign visitors, 'You can invest here with absolute safety.' The talk is all about 'rebranding' Zimbabwe as if it were a product for sale and, together Zanu PF and MDC attend expensive 'bonding' workshops at Victoria Falls while Zimbabwean citizens, men and women, black and white, suffer sleepless nights of terror and dread as violent farm invaders drum and shout outside their doors.
In the villages too there is no peace as the anti-Inclusive Government thugs continue their violent campaign against MDC supporters while the police look the other way.
By doing nothing to address the problem of lawlessness, the MDC have become complicit, morally no better than the party they have joined in government.
I was accused recently of being 'blind' when it comes to the MDC. 'Time to see them for what they really are' my accuser told me. 'Nothing more than Zanu PF in different clothes, just out for power and privilege.' I really don't want to believe that but, I admit, doubts are creeping in.
Once, I admired the MDC for their courage, for their integrity and the moral high ground they occupied. Now I see them in their elegant Mercedes cars with all the trappings of power but none of the moral authority that true political power must entail. This hybrid government may call themselves 'Team Zimbabwe' as they dance the night away at the luxurious Elephant Hills Hotel in a 'bonding' exercise – directed no doubt by some highly paid Management Consultant – but from where I stand they look more like politicians on the make while the people's lives remain unchanged.
What was it we used to say in the old days of economic structural adjustment? 'Eternal Suffering for African People' As we approach Zimbabwe's twenty ninth Independence Day, it seems nothing has changed and once again, disillusionment is setting in. When will freedom ever come for Zimbabwe?
Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.
Saturday, April 18, 2009