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No apologies or self-pity, this land is ours!

By Tichaona Zindoga
I have travelled far and wide across the country in the course of my work in the relatively short period that has been my journalistic career thus far.You see, for a national paper that is blessed with modest resources, we afford to traverse the country looking for stories from the bizarre to the developmental.

Like the physiological lobster claw- footed oddity of the "backward" Doma people in the Dande; the anxiety of the people of Manicaland in the face of Matsanga; humanitarian situations; and so on. So, we criss-cross the country. On personal business, I do a bit of travelling, too.

I often marvel at the countryside and swathe upon swathe of land that I come across and thank God for having blessed Zimbabwe with so much land and wealth on and within it. The countryside is varied and never disappoints: from scrawny shrubs and grass to verdant vestiges and vistas; mountain and rock, Zimbabwe offers almost a complete package in its geographical reality.

The country's farming districts always arouse keen debates when we pass through them, whoever I will be with on my journeys. The countryside has altered significantly since 2000 when the land reform programme started.

All too often now you find that where there used to be green upon green of crop before or around 2000 it is reduced verdure and, at worst, beds of perennial grass. My interlocutors, or even those I overhear, often remark at the change. They applaud here; they condemn there. And there. And there.

We are good for nothing: we took land to waste it, they say. The previous white owners were good: they knew how to use the land productively. Not us; poor black farmers. We do not have the money. We are a greedy lot; we should have let the white farmers keep the land, now look what ruins we have brought to the good old farms! These greedy owners should be, or include the socalled farmers whose land must be repossessed. This attitude is widespread that not even the statistics of rising production levels on the farms by new black farmers are entertained.

The white farmer could surpass all the black could possibly do. He is supreme.

(The same self-pity is also evident in sports like cricket where some quarters decry the "drop" in standards since the senior cricket team began to feature more black faces than whites. We hear now that in rugby, some are thinking that white faces will better represent Zimbabwe at some forthcoming international tournament.) This ahistoricalness greatly saddens me, as does the blindness to some fundamentals in the matter of land. First, the history. When settler whites came into Zimbabwe in 1890 under the banner of the Pioneer Column they were promised vast tracts of land of 3 175 acres and 15 gold claims, among other incentives which they duly got on their conquest.

When the primary interest of gold was on the wane, agriculture became the next big thing and a Land Bank to finance agriculture was formed in 1925.

Agriculture, an afterthought for the settlers some of whom were even criminals and adventurists who got land anyway, would steadily gain currency. Farming would become an obsession, lifestyle and livelihood for a significant chunk of the white population. They were productive, too, what with free labour abounding among natives and the support of the Land Bank which provided loans, on top of which money could be secured using not only the land but gold holdings as security.

By 2000, 110 years since 1890, the whites had reached the perfection that so lingers in our hearts.

Yes, it took 110 years for them to reach what we like to take as the acme of productivity. Given the foregoing, it really beats me how we black people continue to chastise our kind for land reform. Why should we pity ourselves for having 'ruined' the white man's farms?

This is our land that was taken from our ancestors and many died for it during the two major liberation wars. When the white man came he had no skills, on the large part. It took him over a century, and with our labour and minerals, for him to reach perfection, if one would call it that. Productivity is key but why should we expect new farmers to match in less than 15 years what was achieved in 110 years by the whites who employed slave labour and chibharo to meet their ends?

When the land reform was initiated, the country's land bank, Agribank, was put under sanctions, just like the rest of the productive arms of State including electricity supply, and its capacity decimated. It could not lend new farmers because it had no capacity. The farmers could not sponsor themselves in light of economic challenges.

(Some of them would prove real miscreants when they sold farm implements and inputs they were given by government.) Admittedly, some people that got land are not made for the business. Some farms are just too big for others.

Still others are too busy to attend actively to the business of farming. This group is what you could call cellphone farmers. I have a problem with this and other labels on new farmers, not that I am any fan of mediocrity. The commodification of land worries me.

Land is more than economic: it is also historical, social and emotional. We should never negate these aspects.

People took up arms because the white man stole the land of our ancestors. The white man took away and desecrated our land. He defiled the graves of our families.

Some people were restored to the land that belonged to their forefathers. That is historical healing and justice, something which money cannot buy. One's head can rest better in the land of his ancestors and that piece of space on which he is master.

Again this has nothing to do with money but plays an emotional and social role, all made better by the preclusion of fights for some barren pieces of land on which the majority were bundled to by the cruel white invaders.

Critics may also stop and consider the reign of the white settler and realize that productivity does not happen overnight. It may be someone's great grandchild that may be able to turn around the fortunes of the farm but holding and owning land is critical.

That said, addressing or fine tuning the land reform is commendable and even overdue. There should be an inquiry into capabilities and capacities; as well as number and size of farm holds.

Such audits are critical but should not be ahistorical, insensitive, revisionist or self-defeating. And it should be stated that there is no need for apologies or self-pity: this land and the country belong to the people of Zimbabwe who own the land and everything in and on top of it.


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