Zimbabwe Zimbabwe flag. Click to return to the home page. Crisis

Home | ZimCrisis#147 -- Seizure of the Davies' Farm

Date: Wed, 30 Aug 2000 01:19:40 -0700
To: "Zimbabwe Crisis Mailing List":;
From: Zimbabwe Crisis
Subject: ZimCrisis#147 -- Seizure of the Davies' Farm

Hi everyone,

This article is old, but it's worth reading (if you haven't read about this particular seizure already).


Down on the farm
Zimbabwe is committed to a future that only its president really wants
Special report: Zimbabwe
Chris McGreal in Harare
Sunday August 06 2000
The Observer

The Zimbabwean government messenger who delivered the official notice to a stunned April Davies last week quietly but dramatically tipped the scales in the struggle over Zimbabwe's farmland. Mrs Davies was told that her farm had been expropriated without compensation. The government took the land immediately and gave the elderly widow 90 days to get out of her house.

It was the first legal confiscation by Robert Mugabe under his considerable powers to take any land he chooses for redistribution to poor blacks. If Mrs Davies's farm had also been the last to be seized, or was one of just a couple of hundred farms, it probably would not make much difference to greater Zimbabwe. But if Mugabe now does what he says he is going to do, then his country is in for a rough time.

Things looked bad enough when the government said that it intended to take 804 farms, but that at least left most of the commercial land still dedicated to producing vital tobacco exports. But now Mugabe has raised the bleak prospect of expropriating more than 3,000 farms - two-thirds of the white-owned agricultural land - and he says even that may not be enough.

It is not certain that Mugabe intends to follow through on his pledge, but don't count on him backing down. Many Zimbabweans thought the land issue would quietly die after it was used to whip up anti-white sentiment, and support for Mugabe "the liberation war hero", ahead of June's parliamentary elections. But Zanu-PF's humiliating near-defeat has helped keep land top of the agenda.

After the shock of the parliamentary ballot, there is no shortage of voices telling Mugabe that he cannot win the next presidential election in two years' time. Some of the doubters inside his party say that he knows it. But if Mugabe is on the way out, he has little incentive to drop his assault on the farms. And if he hopes to win another election, then it is a powerful issue to keep alive.

Mugabe's constituency, those for whom he believes he governs, and for whom he fought a liberation war, are not the city dwellers who snubbed him so defiantly in June's parliamentary elections. Such support as he has is among the peasants and landless rural poor, whose lives have not improved measurably for all Zimbabwe's past economic successes. Now there are hundreds of thousands of blacks who expect to be given land, much of it good land. Why not one last gesture for the people who matter to him? And at the same time, exact revenge on the whites he so despises? For Mugabe, it is the opportunity to go down in history as the man who not only liberated Zimbabwe from the colonists, but finally righted a great historical wrong and delivered the land back to its proper owners.

None of this may come to pass, but all efforts to prevent it so far have backfired. What began as the prospect of seizing a few hundred farms has increased to several thousand as Mugabe was denounced by Zimbabweans and foreigners as a tyrant out of step with a changing world. There is not much to be achieved by hurling insults at Mugabe. Peter Hain and Robin Cook tried it and did little more than harden the president's determination to snatch the land. In any case, to African ears, the tone of British official criticism still smacks of neo-colonialism.

Mugabe's bitterness encompasses more than the whites camped on Zimbabwean soil. He is not alone among African leaders in being disgruntled at being forced to swallow the new ideology of globalisation and other western medicines that have prevented many governments of poor countries having any real say in the fate of their nations. Few have much to show for it.

Thabo Mbeki's scepticism over the link between HIV and Aids is more than mere contrariness. He is deeply suspicious about western intentions on his continent. To the rest of the world, the 2006 World Cup debacle might have been farce, but in Africa it was understood as a racist conspiracy. Where Mbeki is not at one with Mugabe is over the economic cost of the land seizures. Mugabe famously tells those dignitaries who tramp to his door in the belief they can change his thinking what they want to hear, and then he carries on as usual. This is what happened when Mbeki turned up in Harare with a few heavyweight cabinet ministers in tow.

They have good reason to be worried about what is happening in Zimbabwe. An economic meltdown has many implications for South Africa, not least because of the danger of large numbers of Zimbabweans heading south to search for work, and the damage the crisis does to foreign confidence in the region.

At a press conference, Mbeki spoke of the need to establish the rule of law - which is code for ending the hundreds of illegal farm occupations by the war veterans. Under pressure to respond, Mugabe said he would get veterans off those farms not legally designated for seizure. Even the state-run Herald newspaper hailed it as a breakthrough. The South Africans seemed pleased.

But Mugabe didn't mean it. Next day, he was denouncing his own newspaper for misinterpreting him, and promising to take every piece of white-owned farmland in the country if he felt like it. And he does feel like it. Mugabe has heard all the arguments, economic, legal, moral, against snatching farms but none is as persuasive to him as the case for redistribution.

The moral question, the one for full compensation to the farmers, is the weakest. Theoretically they will get the cost of their homes and farm buildings. In any case, even those Zimbabweans who don't agree with what is going on speak with some bitterness about the manner in which the land was stolen at gunpoint and with considerable brutality little more than a century ago - not long when you see Ian Smith's old friend, the Queen Mother, getting her birthday card. That is no excuse for vilifying white farmers as Idi Amin hounded the Asians, or treating them with cruelty and brutality. Mugabe might want all the whites out of the country, but that is not the wish of most Zimbabweans.

Then there is the legal case, but the west is hardly in a position to lecture Mugabe on the rule of law after decades of riding roughshod over the human rights of Africa by arming governments that commit genocide and propping up authoritarian leaders who plunder their treasuries. The only truly persuasive argument against the redistribution of the farms is the devastating impact the wreckage of the economy will have on the welfare of most Zimbabweans. The commercial farms bring in most of the country's hard currency and are the single largest employer.

Mugabe and his government cannot fail to understand the consequence of redistribution of the country's most productive land to subsistence level farmers. At best, Zimbabwe will be able to feed itself. But the tobacco industry has already said that it will shut down if 3,000 farms are seized. Then there will be little hard currency to pay for fuel and electricity, and so little incentive for industry to stay around.

A good proportion of the working population - farm hands to factory workers - will be out of jobs. If that happens, Zimbabwe will need all the subsistence farmers it can get.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

Zimbabwe Crisis Mailing List

This is currently a manually administered mailing list. To subscribe or unsubscribe, send your request to DELETED. Personal requests for removal will be carried out immediately. Requests from governmental, political or press organisations (or their representatives) will be treated less favourably. The purpose of this list is not necessarily to redistribute published news reports. Rather, it is intended to distribute reports from or directly affecting people in Zimbabwe. If you have seen something before, I apologise. Hopefully that will not be a regular occurrence. Any reports from respondents that are relayed to the mailing list will be done so anonymously.

Brief list of helpful sites on the issue:
- Zimbabwe Crisis mailing list archives -- http://www.niner.net/zimcrisis
- Comprehensive news updates -- http://www.1freespace.com/beetee
- Offers of and requests for help for Zimbabweans -- http://pub9.ezboard.com/boffersofhelp
- Commercial Farmers' Union -- http://www.mweb.co.zw/cfu
- Movement for Democratic Change -- http://www.in2zw.com/mdc
- Zimbabwe Democracy Trust -- http://www.zimbabwedemocracytrust.org
- BSAP Pursuit of Zimbabwean Criminals -- http://www.bsaphq.f9.co.uk