by Hannes Wessels
Last week we were witness to the wretched sight of a public auction of movable assets taking place on farms now ‘owned’ by the Mugabe family under the capable command of the matriarch, Grace. Eyewitness reports indicate there was a mountain of trashed equipment, some of it only recently acquired. The sad irony is many potential buyers were homeless white farmers who had made a success of their operations with relatively little, have lost their property and livelihoods thanks to the actions of the ‘owner’ and are desperately trying to find the means and the ways to get back onto the land they love. Just what has transpired at Grace Mugabe’s dairy is not clear but it seems all was not well and some sort of cash-flow crisis is underway. This, against a backdrop of ‘owners’ who took the farms for nothing and had almost unlimited access to the public purse to purchase whatever was required while Mugabe retained the presidency.
Before being confiscated these farms were highly developed and prosperous commercial entities that flourished with absolutely no public support; in fact, they flourished in the face of a mostly hostile state. As is the case with so many thousands of farms around the country that were once viable, vibrant and productive, most have been rendered derelict, useless to the new owners and useless to the country. This is the story behind the ongoing misery that haunts the people of Zimbabwe.
At the same time farmers in the Stellenbosch area of the Western Cape were gushing in their praise of President Cyril Ramphosa and the ANC. “The Bible says presidents and kings are appointed by the Lord. Mr. President, you’re also anointed. David in the bible was first anointed and then he was appointed, then he wrote the psalms. Mr. President, I know that you’re going to write a lot of psalms for South Africa and it’s going to be a lot of excellent psalms,” said ‘Beyerskloof’ owner Beyers Truter.
This is strong, positive stuff from an Afrikaner farmer about a man who is on the record saying, “We are determined that expropriation without compensation should be implemented in a way that increases agricultural production, improves food security and ensure that the land is returned to those from whom it was taken under colonialism and apartheid.” Maybe Mr. Truter does have a direct line to the divine and maybe Cyril Ramaphosa has indeed been sent by the Lord, in which case I’m out of my depth here but this smacks of bootlicking and I fear farmers following Mr. Truter’s lead may be making a mistake.
No two countries or situations are the same but I well remember the endless and sometimes heated discussions that took place in the 90’s after President Mugabe started making alarming public pronouncements about seizing land without compensation. The consensus of the majority, headed by the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), was that this was political grandstanding and Mugabe and his cabinet were all too aware of the calamitous consequences that would follow such reckless action. When legislation was then passed enabling the very actions Mugabe was assuring the farmers he was going to perform a small group of dissenters argued it was time to rise and challenge this head-on before the country’s judiciary and to consider the legal options available in international courts under rules designed for the protection of fundamental human (property) rights . But again, the majority of those likely to be affected believed this was mostly political posturing and restraint was the message of the day. Many farmers had struck up friendly relationships with ruling party politicians and military leaders and were confident in the personal assurances received that they were secure on their land.
In September 1998 the CFU announced a deal on the ‘Land Question’ had been struck which involved the international community and attracted financial support from donor countries and organisations. At that point, it looked like the non-confrontational approach of the appeasers had worked but as it turned out this was a moment reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain’s ‘Peace in our time’ agreement with Adolf Hitler. In February 2000 the violent state-orchestrated attacks on farmers and the confiscation of their homes and properties commenced and the country went into an economic death-spiral.
Mr. Truter might need reminding this all happened with the tacit support of the South African government led by Thabo Mbeki, who almost farcically, was then championing the ‘African Renaissance’. This exciting and ambitious plan was to unfold under the watchful eye of African elder statesmen and women who would staff the ‘African Peer Review Mechanism’. Mbeki had been bombastic in assuring the West that the days of reckless misgovernance on the continent were truly over but when Mugabe quickly showed how wrong he was, Mbeki went very quiet and that was the end of the ‘African Renaissance’.
Recently, the newly ‘anointed’ President Ramaphosa visited Zimbabwe to survey the wreckage, ignored the obvious lawlessness and endemic corruption and spoke out strongly against ‘Western sanctions’ which he blamed for the country’s economic collapse. If this is divine wisdom in play then I fear we are in big trouble.