Thank you, Mr Mugabe: Zimbabwe’s forced land redistribution led to huge controversy - but it has transformed the lives of thousands of small farmers

The tobacco industry is no longer marked by the pattern of large, white-owned farms, which have been seized and resettled

Harare

Bonus Matashu points to a three-ton truck he bought for $15,000 (£9,360) in cash as an example of how President Robert Mugabe’s often violent programme of seizing white-owned farms and giving them to black Zimbabweans turned his life around. “This is the best thing that could have happened to me and my family and the generality of black Zimbabweans,” the former machine operator said at his six-hectare (15-acre) farm near the tobacco-farming town of Karoi, 93 miles north of the capital, Harare. “I now lead a far better life,” he says.

Mr Matashu, 34, says he was allocated land by the government in 2001 after a white-owned farm was seized and its former owner emigrated to South Africa. He grew cotton for a decade before switching to tobacco. This year he earned $34,000 and won an award for being the best small-scale tobacco farmer in Karoi.

Mr Mugabe said he embarked on the land-grab programme in 2000 to address the expropriation of land from blacks during the 90 years of white rule that ended after a civil war in 1980. While it helped him win rural votes and retain power, the economy was gripped by a decade of contraction, with plummeting exports of crops ranging from tobacco to roses. Zimbabwe’s economy, once one of Africa’s strongest, shrunk to half the size it had been in 1980.

About 18 white farmers were killed in violent takeovers of their land while almost all of the country’s 620,000 permanent and seasonal farm-workers were driven away from their homes, John Worsley-Worswick, the head of Justice for Agriculture, a Harare-based lobby group, said. Together with dependants, those workers accounted for two million people, he said.

While many maintain that Mugabe loyalists remain the main beneficiaries of the bloody land reform (the Mugabe family is now said to own more than 30 farms), some have suggested that it was not all bad. For example, though it says the methods used were inexcusable, a book entitled Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land by Joseph Hanlon concluded: “In the biggest land reform in Africa, 6,000 white farmers have been replaced by 245,000 Zimbabwean farmers. These are primarily ordinary poor people who have become more productive farmers.”

“We tackled the enemy head on and we got the land,” Agriculture Minister Joseph Made said in an interview. “They will never, never accept that there are now new owners on the land who have done wonders.”

During the turbulence of the farm takeovers, tobacco production plunged to 48.3 million kilograms in 2008 from a record 236.7 million kilograms in 2000, according to the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association. Now it’s making a comeback, with this year’s 166.7 million kilograms earning about $612m.

Most of the rest of Zimbabwe’s agricultural industry remains in crisis, however. The rose and horticulture export business, formerly worth $87m a year, has largely disappeared. Once a corn exporter, Zimbabwe has imported the grain in recent years.

A female farmer at work on a small piece of land about 50km north of Harare (Getty) A female farmer at work on a small piece of land about 50km north of Harare (Getty)
The tobacco industry is no longer marked by the pattern of large, white-owned farms, which have been seized and resettled. In 2000 the crop was grown by 1,500 large-scale farmers while 5,000 small-scale growers produced 3 per cent of the crop. This year 110,000 small-scale farmers grew 65 per cent of the crop, according to the government’s Tobacco Industry Marketing Board. While most of the tobacco used to be auctioned, most is now grown under contract for leaf merchants.

More than a fifth of the growers were registered this year, and farmers are being encouraged to grow the crop in the arid region of Matabeleland.

“It took the minority more than 50 years to reach 220 million kilograms,” said Lovemore Chikweya, regional coordinator for the TIMB in Nyamandhlovu, 230 miles south-west of Harare, in an interview. “With these new farmers that number can and will be surpassed within five years,” he said, forecasting production at 200 million kilograms in 2014.

With the violence associated with the land reform programme and a series of disputed elections resulting in sanctions from the EU and the US targeting Mr Mugabe and his allies, Zimbabwe’s tobacco farmers are now exporting more to Asia.

“Our exports to China have grown by over 50 per cent,” said Rodney Ambrose, head of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association. “We have also established new markets, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia.”

This year China acquired $197m worth of tobacco while Belgium bought $102m, the TIMB says.

Zimbabwean tobacco sold for an average of about $3.67 a kilogram this year, the highest since at least 1990, according to Mr Ambrose. “People are seeing that you can grow the crop and it comes in handy because the returns are much higher compared to wheat and cabbages,” Shandu Gumede, a 43-year-old farmer in Matabeleland, said. “I have no regrets.”

© The Washington Post

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried