Association of Concerned Africa Scholars Review (previously: Bulletin)
ACAS Bulletin 79: Special Issue on Zimbabwe Crisis


Operation ‘Final Solution’ in Post-Election Zimbabwe



By
June 2008


Two months after the March 29, 2008 election in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s defiant fistful image still leers from election posters hanging along the roadsides, boldly displaying the campaign slogan “Defending Our Land and Sovereignty”. State-run media reinforces these twin themes daily as Mr. Mugabe prepares for the June 27 presidential run-off with the tested tactics of stoking racial hostilities and intimidating his foes. International concern mounts over documented evidence of an on-going campaign of violent retribution by the Mugabe regime for its election setback, a campaign that has included renewed farm invasions targeting the few remaining white commercial farmers. Whilst international attention has rightly focused on ZANU-PF’s brutal post-election assault against Zimbabwe’s rural black population, this essay highlights the fate of white commercial farmers as one aspect of the larger state-sponsored campaign of violence and terror in the country that has a particular symbolic resonance.

Background

At the time of Independence in 1980, Robert Mugabe was credited with being magnanimous toward the white farming community, calling for coexistence and reconciliation between blacks and whites: “If yesterday I fought you as an enemy, today you have become a friend with the same national interest, loyalty, rights and duties as myself. If yesterday you hated me, today you cannot avoid the love that binds you to me and me to you.”1 Yet from the beginning there were those who believed liberation would not be complete until all the whites were off the land. These hawks were constrained for decades by a variety of factors, chief amongst them a Constitutional provision that required a ten year period where land would be acquired only through a “willing-seller, willing-buyer” system. When this period came to an end, the Land Acquisition Act was amended in 1992, making it easier for Government to compulsory acquire land, albeit with due compensation. Throughout the decade, land reform was pursued in fits and starts, with changing targets and a series of botched donor initiatives. 2

The situation altered radically in 2000 in the immediate aftermath of Government’s defeat on a referendum for a new constitution. The defeat owed in large part to the emergent political muscle of the newly formed opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which much of the white farming community supported openly. Days after the defeat, invasions of white-owned farms began in an operation labeled “Get Up and Leave”. A central if unofficial component of the Government’s Fast Track Land Reform Program (2000-2002), this Operation led to the displacement of the overwhelming majority of the white commercial farmer population, estimated to be 4,500 in 2000. Two recent surveys of displaced white farmers reveal widespread human rights violations against them perpetrated by farm invaders, financial losses estimated in the amount of US$8.4 billion, and a range of devastating human impacts.3 These human impacts – on health, livelihood, family/gender, and identity – are the subject of a separate research paper. 4

An uneasy truce set in after the worst of the violence receded, although contests between white farmers and Government continued through the Courts. As the extreme bias of the Zanu-PF packed Courts became clear, and as domestic legal remedies became exhausted by 2007, 5 one white farmer – William Michael Campbell, of Chegutu – took Zimbabwe’s land reform program to an international court: the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal. Campbell leveled three charges: that the land reform program was racist (against whites), that it was unconstitutional since Amendment 17 passed in 2005 prevented white farmers’ right to judicial appeal, and that due compensation has not been paid as required by law. In a hearing before the Tribunal in late March 2008, 73 other white farmers were successfully joined to the case, and all became covered by an interim relief order. The order required that the Zimbabwean Government halt the evictions and take no steps to interfere with peaceful residence and the beneficial use of the farms pending the outcome of a mass hearing set for May 28. During this period of uneasy truce, fissures surfaced in the ruling party over whether or not to allow the remaining white farmers keep their land, and the media reported coalitions of traditional leaders, new settlers and other members of local black rural communities petitioning Government to allow their white farmer neighbors to remain.

The Post-Election Period

This terrain imploded in the aftermath of the March 29, 2008 harmonized election. After a dizzying period when the public and media had little idea what was going on behind the scenes, it soon became evident that Zanu-PF hardliners had gained the upper hand. The upshot for the land question was that what had been a minority view to cleanse the country of all remaining white farmers became more salient. It was in this context that reference to a “final solution” began to be aired. In an address before a trade fair on April 25, Mugabe said: “Let the colonists know this is the final solution”. “The land reform programme under which thousands of Zimbabweans were allocated land taken from the white minority is the final solution to the land question and will never be reversed . . . We are simply claiming our birthright, defending our hard won sovereignty . . . Better all those who shake and quiver at every word of our colonial masters please know Zimbabwe will never be for sale . . . and will never be a colony again.”6

The fresh round of farm invasions intensified, justified in the state media by the spectre of former white farmers reported to be returning en masse from self-imposed exile to re-possess their farm properties in anticipation of an MDC victory that would restore the colonial order. Some reports went so far as to claim that white settlers were intimidating and inflicting violence against “visiting” and “innocent” war veterans.7 An intercepted radio message from PROPOL (police) aired on April 16 stated:

“It has come to the attention of this headquarters that there has been an influx of former white farmers in the country. These former white farmers are visiting farms and challenging current farm owners to return their property which they allege was unlawfully taken away from them. The former white farmers are also conducting meetings clandestinely with the intention of disrupting farming activities . . . Once seen, they should be arrested and detained forthwith for disrupting farming activities.”8

This communication is quite possibly connected to the subsequent arrest of Wayne Munro and three other white farmers in early May. Munro was arrested for shooting at and pepper spraying the crowd during the violent attack against him. Three other white farmers were arrested “after they were seen driving around” in a vehicle with allegedly “fake” registration plates and for weapons’ possession (i.e. violating the Firearms Act). The Herald reported that the “police would not allow any attempts to subvert the law in any part of the country” and quoted Didymus Mutasa, the Minister of State for National Security, Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement, as warning that “by harassing new farmers, the white former commercial farmers were ‘playing with the tail of a lion.”9

Despite such blatant attempts to reverse victim and perpetrator, the reality is that Operation “Final Solution” has involved a violent war of attrition against much of the remaining white farming sector. As in the past, the focus of the campaign has been to make life intolerable for white farmers in order to get them to pack up and leave. Tactics have involved: the sadistic maiming of pets, farm animals and wildlife; death threats; theft or destruction of crops and equipment; and jambanja where the farm family is barricaded on the farm by a noisy and threatening group surrounding the perimeter for days, weeks, and in the case of Digby Nesbitt and his family, for four months. Although the overwhelming majority of victims of violent assault in the post-election period have been black farmer workers, new settlers, and communal dwellers,10 at least two white farmers have landed up in hospital as a result of assault at the hands of invaders. Both the intention and effect of this campaign has been to humiliate farmers and cause trauma, fear, and psychological stress.

Below are synopses of the stories of three white farmers who have endured disruptions in the post election period. 11

• John Borland, a white commercial farmer in Masvingo, has from early April been subject to severe intimidation and verbal abuse by a group of war veterans and youth militia. The invaders announced that they had come to take “their” land, cattle and equipment. Borland and his family were ordered to leave with one suitcase and “go back to the UK” (this despite the fact that Borland is a Zimbabwean citizen, as are 75% of displaced white farmers).12 They accused him of returning evicted white farmers to their farm. His horses have gone missing, the whole of the farm has been pegged, fencing stolen, gates left opened, and cattle from communal land brought in. Pungwes (political reorientation by the Youth Brigade and war veterans) are held nearly every night at a camp set up about 150 meters from the homestead, sometimes “attended” by as many as three hundred farm workers and communal dwellers. The farm staff was ordered not to do any more work for Borland, and eventually became so intimidated that, given the lack of police protection, they all resigned. Borland was then forced to provide his former staff with retrenchment packages, even though they had not been fired but had resigned under duress. The nightly pungwes continue and Borland is constantly hassled by the youth base commander for donations of meat, milk, firewood, even donations to Zanu-PF for t-shirts for the upcoming run-off election.

• Louis Fick, a white farmer in Chinhoyi, had all the locks to his farm removed and new ones replaced by the would-be beneficiary, Edward Mashiringwani, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank. His case has been widely publicized in the independent media, no doubt in large part due to justifiable concern over the cruelty on the part of the beneficiary in preventing the feeding of penned livestock (8,000 pigs, 14,000 crocodiles, and 2,000 cattle). For over a month, Fick has had access to his farm and livestock constantly blocked. Since the required daily feeding of livestock has been impossible, the Zimbabwe Society for the Protection against Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA) has attempted to intervene, to no avail.13 To date, 82 pigs and 28 crocodiles (as well as 42 crocodile hatchlings) have been found dead. Reports have been issued about terrible squeals being heard as mother pigs denied food for up to six days ate their piglets. When Mashiringwani gave Fick a three-day ultimatum to put in writing what he is prepared to give him, it became apparent that the starving of livestock was being used to gain leverage in negotiations to broker a deal to take over the farm.

• Paul Stidolph, a white farmer in Karoi, has been under siege since April 16th, when his farmhouse was invaded by armed and uniformed soldiers, acting on behalf of the would-be beneficiary, Major General Nick Dube. Although soldiers had been resident on the farm since October 2007, the Stidolph family was allowed to continue living in the farmhouse and operate a registered dairy. This accommodation ended after the election when, on April 8, Dube visited the farm and gave soldiers the order to evict. The Stidolphs were barricaded in their house by an angry crowd of about 100 people, and their son was beaten up. They were given 24 hours to vacate. Since the property is covered under the SADC interim relief order, Stidolph refused. At this point the situation deteriorated and the soldiers threatened to shoot their dogs. Stidolph and his wife retreated to the house with their dogs and locked themselves inside. The soldiers then brought hosepipes from the garden and starting pumping water under the doors in an effort to flood them out. The soldiers only retreated when Mrs. Stidolph put a pistol to her head and threatened to shoot herself dead before she would leave her home alive or see her dogs killed. The soldiers returned later to apologize, insisting they were ordered to do what they did and feared losing their jobs if they failed to carry out their orders. A few weeks later, on May 8, the Stidolph home was invaded again. They were forced to pack their belongings at gunpoint while much of their property was thrown out of the house and destroyed. One soldier told Stidolph that they were being evicted because General Dube and Minister Mutasa were angry they had taken their case to the SADC court.

The major new development this month has been farm disturbances and violence in the Chegutu district, with twenty farms reportedly seized in the province of Mashonaland West.14 Chegutu was quiet the previous month, certainly in part due to the fact that it is the area most closely associated with the SADC Tribunal case. Michael William Campbell’s farm is located there and a group known as the “Chegutu 13” was active in moving the case forward in 2007 before being joined by others in late March. In early May, groups of youth militia moved into the area. On instructions from the local Zanu-PF MP, they moved from door to door of all the farms to evict the farmers, despite the fact that they all enjoy interim relief from SADC. Local police have refused to take action, saying the matter is either “political” or “civil”, suggesting that reports of orders from “high up” that no farmers should receive police assistance in the present wave of farm evictions and violence are in all likelihood are true. When one farmer presented a copy of his interdict in order to stave off eviction, invaders retorted that they were not interested in “any paperwork”.15 It remains to be seen how the SADC Tribunal will respond to such open defiance of its orders by the Zimbabwean Government.

Conclusion

Renewed attacks on white commercial farmers are part and parcel of the more generalized campaign of intimidation and violence spearheaded by Mugabe’s regime in the aftermath of its electoral defeat in the first round. The US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, has called the situation a “humanitarian disaster” and released data that there are more than 30,000 displaced persons, 1,300 victims of violence, and 30 confirmed dead.16

In this context, there is some potential, although unlikely, that a turn toward racial violence will occur. A repeated theme in white Zimbabwean discourse is that race relations were on a good footing before the land invasions occurred. True or not, the actions of Government are intent on sowing conflict between white farmers and black settlers/workers. Propaganda is targeted to this purpose, one extreme case being a farm near Bulawayo where new farmers have been warned by Government that the white farmer is involved in an opposition plot to poison their livestock in order to push them off their newly acquired land. Various other mechanisms are employed, too, such as provoking farm workers to demand steep retrenchment packages or prohibiting them from working for white farmers under threat that their huts will be burnt down. There is always the potential that such stoking of racial conflict from above for political gain can take on a life of its own. If it does, it will be but one more aspect of the tragedy that is Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s rule.

About the Author

Amy E. Ansell, Bard College, ansell@bard.edu

Notes

1. International Crisis Group, Blood and Soil: Land, Politics and Conflict Prevention in Zimbabwe and South Africa, Africa Report No. 85, September 17, 2004, p. 31.
2 Ibid.
3 Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the Justice for Agriculture Trust [JAG] in Zimbabwe, “Adding Insult to Injury: A Preliminary Report on Human Rights Violations on Commercial Farms, 2000 to 2005”, June 2007; and Justice for Agriculture Trust [JAG] and the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe [GAPWUZ], “True Sons of the Spoil: Political Purge and Plunder on Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farms”, February 2008.
4 Amy E. Ansell, “Human Impacts: Case Studies of Displaced White Farmers in Contemporary Zimbabwe” (forthcoming).
5 These two claims are the subject of another paper of mine, “The State of Justice on Race and Land in Zimbabwe”, (forthcoming).
6 “No going back on land: President”, The Herald, April 26, p. 1.
7 “War veterans attacked, three farmers arrested”, The Herald, May 5, 2008, p. 1.
8 CFU, “Report on Post Election Farm Invasions and Disruptions”, May 2008, p. 10-11.
9 “War veterans attacked, three farmers arrested”, The Herald, May 5, 2008, p. 1.
10 The terrible violence being inflicted on black rural communities is both more severe and generalized than in the past. For a good treatment, see: The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, “Statement Concerning Escalating Cases of Organized Violence and Torture and of Intimidation of Medical Personnel”, May 8, 2008.
11 This information is taken from the April and May 2008 reports on post election farm invasions and disruptions compiled by the CFU.
12 Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, “Adding Insult to Injury: A Preliminary Report on Human Rights Violations on Commercial Farms, 2000 to 2005), June 2007, p. 1.
13 The former director of the ZNSPCA, Meryl Harrison, is credited with saving scores of animals from the invaded farms in the past and has a forthcoming book coming out on the subject.
14 Bernard Mpofu, “20 farms seized in Mash West”, Zimbabwe Independent, May 9, p. 1.
15 CFU, Report on Post Election Farm Invasions and Disruptions”, May 2008, p. 14.
16 These figures were announced at a USAID Partners Meeting in Harare on May 19, 2008.







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