View from the Veranda

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I have a farm in Africa, southwest of Harare in the province of Mashonaland, that has been in the family since 1933 and now has a fourth generation of our grandchildren living on it. It has seen many events, including our wedding in 1965, one golden wedding celebration, family christenings and one murder, that of my wife's mother, killed in May 1980 in the aftermath of the liberation war that brought Robert Mugabe to power. So it is a place of potent memories, some happy and some sad. The veranda is a place where I go to think because it looks out onto my wife's garden of indigenous shrubs and trees and there is a peaceful feel to it. Today it is also a place from which one can see if any invaders are driving down the road to the farm.

For the first time in my life, the view from my veranda is not at all clear. I know there is legal process to be gone through so that the government may take over my farm to redistribute it to landless peasants. But I also know that the rule of law has been hopelessly subverted by the illegal farm occupations of the last six months. In the legal process I am entitled to a court hearing to defend my ownership and to be given time to make arrangements. Mr. Mugabe says he will pay for the improvements but not the land. But he has not told us how he will fund that payment, nor on what basis that valuation will take place or who will do it. The farm was the subject of an acquisition order in 1997 and we have not heard from the government since. But if this farm is resettled on the sort of haphazard basis that has been taking place recently, almost $1 million worth of agricultural produce beef, pork, maize and tobacco will not find its way to the market in the future, either locally or for sale on world markets. I further cannot see clearly what is going to happen to the 75 black families that work on this farm, some who have been here for three or four generations. There have been so many conflicting statements made on the subject by so many people that the farm workers cannot be blamed for being, like ourselves, completely confused.

We are now going into the planting season and we will be sowing our crops into fields already staked out illegally several times over by the so-called war veterans while the police stood by. There is no clarity on our legal rights to our property and the organs of the State are being used to frighten us and to interfere in producing food for the nation and providing livelihoods for our workers.

History is littered with this sort of anarchy. The Cultural Revolution in China comes to mind, as does the late Julius Nyerere's ill-fated ujamaa project in Tanzania. But I never expected my country to be afflicted with this kind of madness. There is unanimity on the need for land reform. There is land available and an agreement was drawn up in 1998 for a program of sustainable land resettlement which would have been financed by aid from Western countries. The government of Zimbabwe has failed utterly to meet the terms of that agreement.

People ask why we carry on. The answer is simply that we do not have another veranda. This is still our property and our home and our livelihood. We are citizens of Zimbabwe and are entitled to the protection of the law just like anyone else. We have made a large contribution to this country and wish to continue to do so.

The prospect from my veranda is brightened, however, by three things. The first is that the workers and their families on the farm are totally supportive of us. The second is the strong support and love that our own family has shown. We have two sons and a daughter-in-law involved in the family business and we have met and faced down challenges that not many people have had to handle. The third is that the people of Zimbabwe are now beginning to make their voices heard and show their opposition to the anarchy and lawlessness that stalk our country. The recent electoral setbacks for the ruling party were evidence of that.

So we take each day one at a time, with the realistic view from the veranda not so different from what it has been for the last 70 years or so. Our tractors are tilling the fields in advance of our next crops, the cattle have been well tended during our African winter and, when this madness is over, we hope we will be able to get on with doing what we do best: farming the land, raising livestock and earning some hard currency to sustain the country's economic activity.