Zimbabwe: Mugabe offers up farms to pay off his political debts

Zimbabwe's rich white farmers are being threatened with land seizure and eviction. Mary Braid visits the prosperous tobacco belt, now drowning in despair.

Ahead, the dense bush shimmers in the fierce heat of the Zimbabwean midday sun. "Oh man, just look at that," says Warwick Evans, 37, brimming with pride.

It is 10 years since Mr Evans bought his farm in Trelawney, the prosperous tobacco belt, an hour's drive west of Harare. It was whispered then that the cocky newcomer had paid too much. But Mr Evans, full of energy and vision, has quadrupled the farm's output and become one of Zimbabwe's farming high flyers.

Soon all he has worked for could disappear. For Mr Evans is one of 1,500 commercial farmers - mostly white - whose land has been listed for compulsory seizure by the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe.

After almost two decades of black majority rule, President Mugabe says land stolen by white colonials must now be handed over to poor blacks.

President Mugabe's rhetoric is crude, ignoring for instance, that many "listed" farms are not colonial inheritances but were bought on the open market in the last 25 years.

But a man fighting for political survival has no use for detail. This week, 50,000 war veterans, who brought President Mugabe to power, are expecting the fulfilment of a long-overdue presidential promise; a one- off combat reward payment of 50,000 Zimbabwe dollars (pounds 1,635) and a Z$2,000 (pounds 64) monthly pension.

The veterans have already rioted and President Mugabe is terrified of a coup. Just where he will find the cash is hard to say. In a country riddled with corruption, the veteran pension fund has already been looted and years of economic mismanagement have sent the currency into freefall.

Last week millions staged the country's first national strike to oppose new taxes to fund the veterans' payout. The strike, a week after 50 ministers were each issued with a Mercedes Benz and a Jeep, unleashed an outpouring of anti government sentiment.

The state's response was brutal. In Harare the police attacked demonstrators with tear gas and sjamboks. The following day, trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai was found unconscious and savagely beaten on the floor of his blood-splattered office.

With few cards left to play, President Mugabe has returned to two old favourites; racial division and the land issue - most of Zimbabwe's commercial farmland is still owned by white farmers. The government is trying to create a smokescreen for political failure and hopes veterans can be bought off with land.

Farmers are now scapegoats in a political gamble which threatens the entire economy. They are Zimbabwe's highest earners of foreign currency and employ hundreds of thousands of people. The majority of Zimbabwean businesses depend on the agricultural sector. Months of uncertainty have already halted farm investment; the whole economy is suffering.

At Trelawney's farm machinery workshop, Felicity Pentland-Smith, farmer's wife and grand-daughter of Winston Field, a former Rhodesian prime minister, accuses the government of inciting racial hatred.

Thousands of workers recently stoned farmhouses and beat up farmers during their first strike over wages. Mrs Pentland-Smith was trapped in the shop by a mob of 200.

"Mugabe constantly talks about indigenous people," she says. "I am a Zimbabwean. We have invested everything we have in this country. If we leave we leave with nothing."

Her neighbours are also bitter at being targeted after years of "reconciliation" rhetoric. At another farm, the owner of inherited land, also listed, cannot sleep for worry. "We will trash this place before we leave," says his wife.

But while the farmers are undoubtedly whipping boys, ingrained white racism - particularly among the older generation - only strengthens the president's hand.

In Trelawney the old colonial ways are preserved. In magnificent farm houses, with manicured lawns, tennis courts and swimming pools, whites still live like kings served by silent armies of deferential blacks. The racial divide is strictly observed. White conversation is casually and intensely racist; and there is no shame.

Mr Evans, the local farm union representative, is part of a younger, more enlightened generation. He has built a school, a clinic and three- bedroomed pre-fab houses for 150 workers and their families.

He lives in considerable style and makes no apologies but says his workers must share in the prosperity. Not everyone in Trelawney appreciates his attitude, arguing he is forcing them to improve working conditions.

Dinosaur racism lives on. But the farmers can justifiably point to farms previously acquired by government which now lie derelict or have become holiday homes for ministers.

One of the few black commercial farmers to have broken into Trelawney's once all-white club agrees land redistribution, as proposed, will be a disaster.

The farmer, who prefers to remain anonymous, was involved in previous programmes to resettle peasants on commercial land. He says lack of money for training and investment guaranteed the peasants remained subsistence farmers.

Dismayed to find himself on the land grab list, he says that even if his colour wins him a reprieve the purchase of surrounding farms will have a disastrous effect on business.

Mr Evans still hopes that reason will prevail. He believes in Zimbabwe. "We can be an African tiger," he says. "But Mickey Mouse money [the falling Zimbabwe dollar] means Mickey Mouse government."

It will be nothing short of criminal if a Mugabe crony is soon taking in the view from Mr Evans' front porch.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe
art
Sport
Robin van Persie leaves the field at the King Power Stadium last Sunday
football
Arts and Entertainment
tvPresenter back after daughter's Halloween accident
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

News
people

London 'needs affordable housing'

News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
Timeshift: The Ladybird Books Story (9pm BBC4 Sun 22 Dec)
BooksLadybird drops branding books for boys and girls
Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
Life and Style
tech
News
peopleIan Thorpe addresses Ricky Martin rumours
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

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines