Dear Family and Friends,

Twenty four years after farm invasions began in Zimbabwe it was time for me to go back to my farm again and have a look. Surely 24 years later, there would be something to see to support the legend that what happened on commercial farms was productive and beneficial to the people and the country. Where before there had been a dairy and tobacco barns, a maize and castor bean crop, timber plantations, internal and external fencing and 300 head of livestock; surely now that would have increased ten-fold at least after 24 years. Surely now I would see scores of people harvesting crops, truckloads of debarked timber waiting to go to the sawmills, feed pens full of fat lambs and round bellied weaners ready to go to the abattoir, dairy cows with bulging udders waiting to be milked?   

Twenty four years ago this month Zimbabwe was turned upside down when Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF government sanctioned the widespread seizure of privately owned farms. Government supporters swarmed over the land evicting everyone in their wake. It was a program which saw around 6,000 commercial farmers evicted and an estimated 600,000 farm workers and their families directly and indirectly affected. Property rights and Title Deeds had been rendered null and void by the actions of the Zimbabwe government and the door to impunity was swung wide open. I was one of those farmers whose farm was seized and for the avoidance of doubt by new readers to my Letters From Zimbabwe, our farm was purchased ten years after independence, with the approval and a certificate of No Current Interest from the Zimbabwe government.

In March 2000 inflation was 50% and continued soaring throughout land invasions until the Zimbabwe government stopped publishing the figures. In March 2024, many devaluations later, inflation in Zimbabwe is 1650%, a number established by internationally respected Johns Hopkins Economist, Steve Hanke.

So what did I see when I went back to my farm last week? I did not see a thriving productive farm, I saw houses, lots of houses built on the most fertile fields, the lushest pastures and the livestock handling pens. The dairy has been completely demolished. Fully functional, equipped livestock facilities obliterated. I closed my eyes for a moment and let happiness in. I could see us, my little boy and me, 24 years ago, watching the cows being milked, Richie drinking warm, frothy milk in his little tin cup filled straight from the bucket; me being knocked down and butted when I was dosing the sheep and the bellows of outrage from my beautiful glossy weaners as I caught them in the neck clamp and they thrashed around and screamed blue murder as I clipped in their new ear tags.

Happiness and nostalgia filled me for a moment but then sadness came, sadness to see that such hard work and productive beginnings had ended twenty four years later with such destruction. Why would you obliterate equipped and functional livestock facilities on a farm and replace them with residential houses? It makes no sense, this isn’t farming. Such squandered earning potential for both the people on my farm and for our country. What a loss.  

I drove along a bit with a heavy heart.  At the cross roads women ran out to buses selling bowls of tomatoes or ground nuts to travelers. There were more big houses here too, solar panels on their roofs, big walls going up, water tanks on stands; there’s money here I thought but not for farming only for building mansions. The further down the road I went the houses became pole and mud huts with thatched roofs and a few little plots of droughted maize.  All the farm’s internal and boundary fences have gone, timber plantations gone, the dam that watered 300 cattle a day is empty, the wall broken and unrepaired; the once perpetual natural spring has dried up, clogged up, pipes and seep wells dug up, fences and troughs gone. The farm store that once sold groceries and fresh farm produce is now a Bottle Store.

Not a single person who used to work on our farm was allowed to stay on this farm despite the fact that it is them who know this land so intimately. It was them who worked it every day, knew the best grazing areas, the sweetest water, the most fertile ground. Together we were the men and women with callouses on our hands, earth under our fingernails, blood and saliva on our sleeves and knowledge in our heads that made this farm work. We were all banished, regardless of our skin colour. So many have gone, fled to the Diaspora to survive, but some of us are still here, still banging the drum of hope, recording events and telling the stories so that one day those who come after us will know what really happened here and who really benefitted from it all. Please don’t forget us.

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 24th year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.

Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)

Love Cathy 21st March 2024. Copyright © Cathy Buckle

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