The debate over farm occupations in Zimbabwe is severely one-sided, but wherever you sit on the Political Compass, once thing is certain: People are dying and more are going to.
When I started university in 1994, the exchange rate was somewhere in the region of Zim$2 to the Rand. Black Zimbabwean students were easily distinguishable from Black South African students, by two main features:
- When they spoke, they looked you in the eye
- Their secondary education was superior even to mine
By the time I graduated, in 1998, the Zimbabwean dollar had dropped to Zim$6 to the Rand, and Zim$36 to the US dollar. My mother works in travel and found an amazing deal to visit the US$300 a night Matetsi Game Lodge outside Victoria Falls, at a mere fraction of the price. They were kind enough to foot the bill for me to accompany them.
We interrupted our luxury one day to travel across the border into Zambia and visit one of the company's lodges there. It may sound perverse, but this was the highlight of my trip.
As we travelled through the town of Victoria Falls, two things became readily apparent:
- Nobody wanted the Zim Dollar, not even the Zimbabweans
- The poverty was extreme, and seemingly every blind Zimbabwean was begging on the streets.
Still, as dire as the situation in Victoria Falls was, Livingstone, Zambia's border town, was worse. Shops were boarded up, roads were pot holed and people were hungry.
That was two years before the farm invasions started. Today it is Zim$57 to the US$, which is the least of the country's problems. They're running out of fuel, have no foreign exchange reserves, are facing extreme sanctions, people are killing one another in the name of politics, free speech is a distant memory and people have no food. Oh, and they're also dying of AIDS.
Today, in the middle of winter, half a million Zimbabweans are surviving on food donated by neighbouring countries. The United Nations World Food Program expects the number to multiply to six million, half of Zimbabwe's population, within a few months.
How did this happen to a country that, two years ago, was one of Africa's major food exporters? Indeed, Zimbabweans used to make a mockery of their cousins up north and how their country had declined under Kenneth Kaunda. How did the tide turn so swiftly?
Official word is that Zimbabwe is in the midst of its worst dry spell in 20 years. Seasonal rains will not start before November. Even if the drought abates, a parched soil does not cope well with heavy rain.
Yet in spite of this drought, the Ministry of Agriculture has not declared water restrictions, mainly because the dams are nearly full! The lowest at the moment is Matebeleland, at 79%. So how come the dams are full if the country's experiencing drought? Land invasions.
The Minister of Agriculture has listed 95% of Zimbabwe's farms as compulsory acquisition. Or, fair game for land invaders. The principal of compulsory acquisition is that the farmland is redistributed to the previously disadvantaged people, that they may prosper. A fantastic idea, flawed in the execution.
The land is being acquired by less than equitable means, usually violent. The invasions began in the lead up to the 2001 Presidential elections. Robert Mugabe and his followers, particularly War Veterans Association leader Chenjerai Hitler Hunzvi, tried to rekindle support for his ZANU-PF Party by supporting invasions of white-owned farms.
Unfortunately, the new owners have neglected the farms now that they've taken them over. Reports say that the new settler farmers (presumably the legitimate ones) have no capital, therefore no seed, no fertiliser, no equipment. The invaders, however, presumably took over whatever was left by the fleeing owner and have less of an excuse.
The farmers who have thus far been spared soldier on, but with no fuel, it is hard to irrigate your lands. Little was planted last season, little has been irrigated in between, and even less is being harvested now. Zimbabwe cannot feed it's 13 million people, without help, they will starve.
International sanctions are in force against Zimbabwe, in an attempt to get Uncle Bob deposed. All outside food must therefore come in the form of aid donations. This is where you come in: If you could maybe save a life, would you?
Reports say that food aid is being distributed only in ZANU-PF stronghold areas, and in some cases, only to card-carrying members of the ruling party. Quote this morning's London METRO newspaper:
This only holds for food handed out by the government.
There was a war veteran who said, "You MDC, you are not going to buy this food, to buy maize, go back to the back of the line."
Pick your aid agency carefully.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) is a group of thirteen UK charities, distributing aid in six southern African countries. They distribute the food themselves, and do not discriminate amongst recipients.
You can support the DEC in England at your local Post Office, Bank or by post. You can also call them on 0870 60 60 900, or visit http://www.dec.org.uk
Make cheques payable to
DEC Southern Africa Crisis Appeal
PO Box 999
USians fear thee not! You too can help your fellow man! http://www.redcross.org/services/intl/feed.html
Update: December 2002
The Mugabe government is presently blocking distribution of food by Save the Children because they claim that the Foundation are only distributing food to opposition MDC supporters. Save the Children has food stored in a warehouse and are actively trying to get it to the hungry masses, regardless of their political affiliation.
- METRO, Tuesday July 30, 2002
Please note, MDC is Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe's main opposition party!! (Not only an anarchist hardcore punk band as per Quizro's wu =) I love irony.)