"Participation Builds Unity"




Comment by Joseph Rogers
03 June 2003


History - The original inhabitants of Zimbabwe were bushmen!

The original occupants of the country were Bushmen or San People. Zimbabwe was populated by migrants – the first migration concerned the Nguni people of whom the Shona were a sub tribe, they started to filter into the country between 900 AD and 1200 AD from Central and West Africa. The Ndebele who came in about 1840 and then the Ndau followed them in the early part of the 20th century. The Shangaans, Venda and other groups (the Kalanga in the western Matebeleland area) are local migrants. The only remaining really indigenous people are the Tonga of the Zambezi valley. These were riparian settlers and lived in small riverbank communities

. When the whites arrived in numbers from about 1890 onwards, they found the Ndebele terrorizing the whole of central Africa. The Ndebele came from Natal and had originally consisted of several thousand single fighting men fleeing from the Zulu king, Shaka, following a defeat in the Transvaal. They settled in the Bulawayo area and established a raiding economy – taking food (grain), cattle and women from all the established regional tribes. By the time the whites had become settled circa 1900, the Ndebele had been defeated in battle and only a small scattered population remained. They were displaced by the whites who occupied their capital and took all the land that surrounded it – giving the Ndebele land in the Matopos where they had fled during the war and in certain other areas and cattle, under the personal direction of Cecil Rhodes. The Ndebele were not cultivators and there is little evidence of cultivation in Matebeleland before the whites settled.

The situation in the central and northern regions of Zimbabwe was very different. When the whites settled in Harare in 1896, they found the people living in terror of the periodic raiding parties from the Ndebele and were restricted to the granite areas where there was some protection. They are an agrarian people and cultivated millet and sorghum to some extent – but because of the limit on cattle and equipment – they tended to cultivate the areas of sandveld that were more amenable to their cultivation practices. Water was also a factor in determining the distribution of population.

When the whites arrived in 1896, there were probably less than 400 000 people in the whole country. The agricultural system of the Shona people meant that they had to have access to unlimited virgin land to maintain production. They simply burned their huts and moved when the land was exhausted – that is why there is so little evidence of permanent settlement.

The Ndebele did not cultivate – they simply raided their neighbours for food when required, they also relied on their cattle as a source of food and wealth. Land in both cultures was regarded as a “common good” with little value except as a means to live off.

The cattle economy of the Ndebele was linked to a system, which allowed only the leadership to accumulate wealth. This applied especially to the paramount chief who had to be the possessor of more wealth than any of the others – this was tied into the political system, which was in the form of a pyramid structure with one strong man at the top. If you wanted to change the leadership – you had to kill the top man and then have the strength to hang on to the throne yourself.

By contrast the Shona were grouped by kinship and religion into clans who took decisions using a complex system of consensual relationships based on age, gender and kinship. They tended to group together in loose alliances for protection but did not have the strong military traditions of the Ndebele and were constantly vulnerable to their predications.

It was the massacre of the people of the South African highveld by raiding Zulu war parties in the early 1800’s that paved the way for Afrikaner settlement. This was called the “interhamwe”. When the whites arrived in Zimbabwe this process was well under way in Zimbabwe and the Protectorates established by Queen Victoria. Botswana and southern Zambia were both reactions to the raiding activities of the Ndebele. In Rhodesia it was the decision by the whites to restrict the Ndebele to the area south of the Shangani River (60 km from Gweru) that led to the Ndebele wars – the first battle was on the Shangani River followed by battles in Bulawayo and Lupane. Lobengula, the Ndebele chief at that time, fled north and eventually committed suicide in Zambia across the Zambezi.

The whites settled in Mashonaland and Masvingo province mainly in areas that were not occupied. They also chose the heavy soils and areas where they could combine mining with farming. This left the sandy soil areas in the hands of the local people. In fact a major problem of the settlers was how to get the local people to leave their homes and to come and work on the mines and farms. This persisted for decades and explains why the majority of people, even today, on the commercial farms are regional migrants from Mozambique and Malawi. White settlement of the sandveld areas really only started in the post war era in 1945 when settlement schemes for men returning from the war were launched and the tobacco industry took root.

As the population of Zimbabwe grew, the demand for more land was repeated in generation after generation in the first 60 years of local history. The government of the day responded by gradually increasing the area under tribal or “communal” settlement and the last such large scale settlement was in the early 60’s when some 5 million hectares of “stateland” was alienated in the Zhombe and Gokwe areas for communal settlement.

This was stopped in the mid sixties by the “Land Apportionment Act” which roughly divided up the total land resource into two main sectors of 16 million hectares each. The one category of land was called “commercial farm land” and the other “Tribal Trust Land”. In the first there was freehold title and in the second title was communal under Tribal leadership. The commercial farming areas were divided into small-scale farms of about 100 hectares each and the large-scale areas into farms of about 2250 hectares. It remained in these categories until independence. Since then the commercial area has been reduced by the transfer of 3,2 million hectares to resettlement. Thus today commercial farmers own about 12.6 million hectares – 1,4 million in the hands of 15 000 small-scale farmers and 11,2 million hectares in the hands of about 4800 large-scale farmers. 4000 white and 800 black. The problem that exists is that because the communal areas still use the traditional farming methods and do not have access to the virgin land they need for their shifting agricultural practices, their land is exhausted and crop yields low. As populations grow this situation becomes exacerbated and when the urban economy declines – the pressure on land as a source of subsistence support becomes even more vital. Given the migrant nature of regional and local labour, the communal areas are characterised by a dominance of women and children and the elderly and are over crowded and over grazed. Population and animal pressure is creating near desert conditions in many districts. A consequence is very low-income levels (estimated at US$100 per annum per capita) and dependence on money transfers from the cities and migrants in neighboring states.

When all that separates absolute rural poverty from relative prosperity is a wire fence – this situation becomes untenable. Incomes on commercial farms are 3 times the level of average incomes in communal areas. The gap between the small-scale farmers and their communal counterparts is even greater. By and large commercial farmland is well conserved and managed and has maintained its fertility through good land husbandry and conservative stocking rates. Overall populations pressure is 3.85 hectares per person in the communal areas and 6.30 hectares per person in the commercial farming areas.

Couple this to a political system that has depended on patronage to maintain its power base for the past 20 years and its recent almost total dependence on the rural vote, the land situation is the inevitable target. The white farmers have almost no constituency and are easy targets – the rhetoric strikes a cord throughout Africa and internationally. The fact that 2.8 million people live and work on the 4800 commercial farms is ignored, as is the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people who are displaced. Remember they are mainly by decent migrants from Mozambique and Malawi – “non people” in local political terms. The land issue is therefore very complex and multifaceted. We need to resolve the issue of tenure in the communal areas, protect the agricultural production base that is the foundation of our economy and at the same time achieve greater equity in land ownership and farm production. Everyone knows and accepts that – the only issue is how to achieve this in a reasonable period of time. The present strategy of government on this issue brushes aside all the economic and social questions and concentrates on only one element – using the land issue as a means of maintaining the patronage system that has so far defended their power base in rural areas. The recent pictures of people taking up small plots of land in arid areas is a hopeless testimony to the futility of current government “land reform strategies”.

One irony of the present situation is that for the first time in a hundred years the rural population is in decline. Aids deaths running at over 100 000 a year coupled to high infant mortality – probably also Aids related and high levels of migration – especially to the south, are reducing the national population growth rate to near zero levels. At the same time urban populations are thought to be expanding at over 6 per cent per annum and therefore rural population must be falling – with an estimated 42 per cent of the national population in the cities now, and two million people on the farms, the population of the communal areas must be down to under 5 million.

The Legal and Economic Aspect

The foundation of any market driven, modern economy is the security of tenure over assets. If this cannot be guaranteed by government then the whole basis of the economy will be undermined. In a global economic system, such actions inhibit the flow of new investment into such areas and encourage the outflow of investment to more secure areas of the world. No economy is protected from such trends and Zimbabwe is no exception. By undermining these rights in Zimbabwe – for whatever reason, the Zimbabwe government is undermining the prospects for growth and an improved standard of life for all Zimbabweans. In fact it will probably condemn the great majority of Zimbabweans to a life of desperate poverty where the only hope is flight to a more secure and prosperous corner of the globe. The world is full of such economic refugees.

Aside from this factor, the behavior of Zimbabwe and the acceptance of this stance by regional heads of state will impact on all the countries of the region. The pictures of whites being beaten and worse, will inhibit the growth of tourism and this will further inhibit regional growth prospects. The South Africans estimate the cost to them of the Zimbabwe crisis, as 2 per cent of their GDP – the impact on Mozambique and Zambia must be at least 4 per cent of GDP. The long-term cost in terms of the flight of capital will be even greater and the fact that this situation reinforces the so-called “Afro pessimism” is a further element in the situation. Africans can no longer ignore these issues.

The latest development of the land saga is a statement by Border Gezi on Thursday this week that they are aiming to eliminate white farmers as a group. We have thought for some time that this was the actual political objective – the government does not have any economic objectives in this field except an acceptance of the fact that what they are doing will have a profound impact on the national economy and our food and water system.

This wholesale attack on the white farming community is illegal, is a direct attack on basic human rights for a significant indigenous minority who are clearly citizens in every respect and will do untold damage to the Zimbabwe economy and the region as a whole. It smacks of the attack by Idi Amin on the Ugandan Asian population in the 60’s and the attacks by the Nazi party in Germany on the Jewish community in the 30’s. It is a racist stance, which is totally unjustified after 20 years of independence.

The Alternative

The land strategy of Zanu PF is often misrepresented as the only way in which past grievances and inequalities can be resolved. That is not so. The present strategy will not address the problem of poverty – it will increase the numbers of the absolute poor and further reduce the standard of living of every Zimbabwean. The strategy will continue to inhibit investment and growth in the country and the region and will further inhibit the availability of foreign aid to Zimbabwe. It has already turned Zimbabwe from a net exporter of food to becoming another food importer on the African continent and has removed us from the list of significant players in the global market for tobacco, a position we have held since the mid 50’s.

The alternative is to adopt the land strategy adopted in 1998 by all stakeholders – this would achieve equity in land distribution in 3 years, it would keep our agricultural industry, food and water systems secure. It would expand our role as a food and tobacco producer. It would encourage rather than discourage investment and it would provide a role model for other countries faced with the same problem. South Africa has a much larger land problem than Zimbabwe and to date little has been achieved – threatening the future of that country as well.

In addition the program would then be fully supported by the global community and would provide a major source of foreign aid directed at the rural poor and the redistribution of assets and resources. It would reinforce our human rights record and respect for the rule of law. It would make a start on the long-term problem of improving incomes and production on a sustainable basis in the communal areas.

However, it would also take away from the president, Robert Mugabe, the only electoral ploy he has available to him in the forthcoming presidential election, and therefore all of these issues will be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. The name of the game is the election of Mugabe to a new term of office despite his failure as president to defend the constitution, his failure to protect the lives and property of his citizens and to his failure to improve the quality of life for the people of this country.


To sum up - at the time when the whites arrived there was no organized infrastructure in the country at all. The populace had no written language and had not advanced to the use of a “wheel.” There were no farms, no roads, no bridges, no schools, no hospitals, no dams, no railways, no administration, no mines other than the ancient diggings. So one could say that other than a few thousand NOMADS who used subsistence burn, slash and move on practices in the Mashonaland area; there was no one living on perhaps 99% of the arable land. It is the white settler who identified the areas, which could be farmed, surveyed the land, created and developed viable farming areas, built the roads to them and developed the civilized infrastructure to service the communities. They also provided all of the additional infrastructure which one sees there to day. It is therefore neither correct nor can it be morally justified to make the statement that the land was being taken back because it was stolen from the blacks. It never belonged to them in the first place

. As quoted in your excellent document that President Mugabe , Commander of the army Zvinavashe and Emmerson Mnangagwe, were jointly and severally responsible for the instructions given to the North Korean trained members of the 5th Brigade, to murder, rape and mutilate between 15 000 and 20 000 Matabeles: (Men, Women and Children) This was proven by the Legal Resources Foundation of the Catholic Church for Justice and Peace, during their investigations into those atrocities between 1980 and 1988 and included in their report. Surely this crime should not be allowed to escape the world.


Instead of castigating the white farmers and making defamatory statements about them the Government should extend the hand of friendship and thank them for persevering against all odds to sustain the farming sector of the economy. Even though faced with inflation at 70% and a continuous shortage of essential items such as diesel, seeds and spares they have continued to operate their farms to the best of their abilities, by plowing, planting and tending the land, providing food for the population and export earnings from tobacco and flower production.

The white farming community have not only provided employment for many thousands of people but have also provided schools and clinics for the black workers. All this even though for a number of years they have been under threat from the Government that they would loose their farms and possibly their lives.


It must also be remembered that a population of up to a million black farm workers (who with their families reaches 2.8 million black people) will be displaced by the so called war veterans, should they take over these farms. The war vets would at the most only number 50 000 and are totally unskilled in matters relating to farming. The Black Workers have worked the land with the White Farmers since the beginning of the century and would loose their homes and income and their ability to sustain their extended families all over the country. This would be unfair and catastrophic.


My final point is that this is an expedient way of removing the farm workers from their homes on the farms where they are registered to vote. They are registered on the present “Voters Roll” making it impossible for them to vote in the on coming election. Robert Mugabe knows that most of the farm workers voted for the MDC. Would this be one of the fundamental reason for this political turmoil.


Contrary to predictions, the farms were not flooded with blacks all working the soil. The prime farms in all the best farming areas have been parceled out to Ministers, Deputy Ministers and their cronies. The remainder of the 4 200 farms have been given (without Title) to groups of “War Veterans” who are now termed “New Settlers.” These veterans are being given a Government monthly salary/pension of between Z$ 10 000.00 and Z$ 15 000.00. paid in cash at the end of each month. Some have been in occupation of these farms for between nine months and twelve months without doing anything to the farm other than to steal the fixed assets such as the pumps, wire fencing and all the homestead fittings such as windows, doorframes, roof timbers etc. Those who have elected to till the soil have simply grown enough for their own consumption. Or cut down all the trees on the property to sell in the near by towns and cities

The greatest problem, which emanates from this “Grand Scale Larceny” is that the infrastructure of each of the farms which has taken 100 years to create has been damaged possibly beyond redemption and in perpetuity. Floral and fruit trees which are 50 and 60 years old have been cut down to build huts and the whole system and practice of dipping cattle has ceased completely through the lack of “DIP:. Similarly the whole process of Spraying for “Mosquito’s” and “Tsetsi Fly” prevention has all but ceased to the detriment of the whole area including Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana.

Quite recently Joseph Made the Minister of Agriculture said in a radio broadcast in South Africa that he wanted 300 white farmers to go back to their farms to grow wheat for the coming winter season. This is with NO GUARANTEE that they could continue to farm, security of tenure or anything. This is impossible in most cases because their farms have been stripped down to land with some fencing and what is left of the farm homestead. All the infrastructue has been stolen and sold i.e. The pumps and piping, the electrical generators and wiring etc The storage sheds have been broken down and sold and basically one would have to start over again as there is nothing there any more. It would cost millions to refurbish and re-equip these farms. Unless there is a massive injection of capital this will and cannot take place because most of the suppliers in Zimbabwe are either closed or about to close through not having Forex to buy the items they need to continue to trade.

It is my belief that of the 278 000 Whites living in Zimbabwe at the time of independence there are probably between 15 000 and 18 000 left in the country and most of those are retired or first generation farmers. They have as the saying goes here, “carried on, carrying on.” In an effort to keep heart and soul together and to continue supplying the market.

Most of the farmers who have fled are either in South Africa, New Zealand or Australia. Others have elected to stay in the cities until the catastrophe is over having moved their goods and chattels into warehouses near them. The future does not look good for Zimbabwe. A trip round the industrial areas of Bulawayo and Harare will reveal that the roads are lined with factory buildings that are empty and closed. The Banks who have financed business and the farming operations since the beginning of the century have hundreds of millions owing to them by closed businesses and the farmers who were summarily removed from the farms, given at some times one week to leave with instructions not to take anything not even their own furniture, carpets and personal things, this under pain of instant arrest and imprisonment.

With the Political strife, which is being perpetrated in the country at the present time and critical shortage of almost every commodity it has become most difficult for anyone to survive in the country especially the African Population, even in the most basic way.

There is NO Mealie Meal, NO Milk, NO Sugar, NO Salt, NO Cooking Oil, NO Flour, NO Butter, NO Margarine, NO Cornflour, NO Eggs, NO Diesel, NO Petrol, NO Soap Powder, NO Vegetables, NO Chicken and NO Meat such as BEEF and MUTON. The Government Clinics have NO Medicines and when these products become available from some entrepreneur the prices are horrendous. The white farmers were the main suppliers of most of these products. Finally and lastly NO WHITES left to provide the employment to the thousands of people who relied on it for their living as employees, domestic servants and as workers in businesses. With inflation at between 270% and 300% every time you go into a store the prices have jumped again and again by 50% and even 100%.

I have tried to paint a reasonably accurate picture of how desperate the situation has become for the ordinary person in the street. This is not exaggerated or embellished.

You say, well, what is the answer? There is no panacea which will cure all the ills, but there are moves that can be suggested or recommended which could form the basis of a reconstitution and revitalizing of the Farming Industry, which lets face facts, was the backbone of the economy and provided for the sustenance and well being of the people as a whole. The support businesses will in due course.

As I have said to a number of Africans in Zimbabwe, it has taken the whites 100 years to learn to farm in Zimbabwe with all the knowledge and experience passed on to them over the years the country was a British Colony. They had Banking, Agricultural Societies, Colleges and all sorts of help from Britain and South Africa to make a success of it. They had the ability to borrow from the Banks for development capital and to finance crops. How can you expect a War Vet to compete with this without any of the valuable assets such as the Title Deeds, equipment, and particularly the knowledge, experience and skills.

Politically Robert Mugabe must go. The country must be placed under an interim government of national unity with all senior officers in the Police and Army replaced with less aggressive and more progressive officers and particularly, who have the interest of the country and not their own pockets as their objective. Individuals who have been involved in the brutal repression of the people should be arrested and tried for their crimes against humanity.

The Government of National Unity should immediately introduce NEW REFORMS to the Land Act, which returns the land to its rightful owners as soon as practical with the immediate removal of the War Vets and others squatting on valuable arable land. There must be a call for all the farmers and their BLACK EMPLOYEES to return to the farms immediately with compensation for their losses and Government Guarantees for their safety and security of land tenure. There should be a new and progressive LAND USAGE program which would be as follows:-


An immediate suspension of the present method of Land Acquisition as it is being implemented under the Land the Acquisition Act of 1997/8/9. The repeal of which would guarantee the tenure of the farmers and their workers who return.

Once the situation had stabilized a new Act of Parliament should be passed which would enable the farmer to legally change his farm into a CO-OPERATIVE and dispose of 10% or 15% of the equity in the farm's co-operative to his/their employees. Most of the Blacks Workers on the farms have been there since the first farms were opened early in the century. They have been farming with the Whites since then and are possibly the most valuable farming asset nationally in the country and have gained a great deal of experience over many years and would be the the key element to:-
a) Black Empowerment, and
b) Creating the next generation of farmers who could go on to farms, which have been purchased from farmers who do not want to return to Zimbabwe.

Robert Mugabe and all of the OLD GUARD including Emmerson Manangagwe and the present ministers must be replaced immediately to allow the more progressive of the ZANU PF Members to take part in the NEW DEVELPOPMENT of the country. Far from hating the blacks the Rhodesian Farmer now Zimbabwean Farmer has a great love for his Black Workers with whom he has suffered great privations over the past two decades. 99% of them speak the local languages fluently, their wives helped to deliver many of their workers children, provided for their children’s education, looked after their health by providing Hospital Clinics and other care. This is only a small part of a summary of a relationship, which may be described as a form of “UBUNTU”, which developed over a period of 100 years of being together. Perhaps someone should say thank you to that person and his family for the good he did in many ways, the provision of food when the droughts hit the country and the other benefits he provided in all sorts of ways to his workers who he considered his friends in a fatherly way.

Joseph Rogers






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