by Dr Rory Pilossof – Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Pretoria (January 2011)
As a result of the government’s fast-track land reform programme, spearheaded by veterans of the country’s Liberation War, the plight of the white farmers in Zimbabwe became international headline news. Images of white farmers who were beaten, killed, exiled and driven from their homes became stock material for any coverage on the land invasions and their dramatic consequences. Such events and acts of eviction became commonly referred to as jambanja[i] as more and more farmers suffered violent confrontations on their farms. In turn, white farmers were portrayed in direct opposition to the government that they believed had sanctioned the invasions and evictions. However, this blanket portrayal of opposition is one that hides a number of more complicated dimensions to the way farmers, and in particular the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (CFU), engaged with the government and tried to find solutions to the situation facing them.[ii] This paper looks at how the Union reacted to the land reforms after 2000 in order to question some of the more simplistic assumptions about white farmers’ political engagements after 2000 and how they responded to the traumas of jambanja.
While relations between white farmers and the government benefited from a partnership of convenience in the 1980s[iii], it has been well documented elsewhere that during the 1990s such relations began to cool dramatically. This was partly due to the expiration of the Lancaster House constitution and ZANU-PF’s initiatives to effect compulsory acquisition of commercial farmland. In addition, after the first decade of independence white farmers felt much more confident of their position in Zimbabwe and were willing to challenge government in ways they had not during the 1980s. However, the increasing hostility of ZANU-PF in the late 1990s, which was exacerbated by the rising popularity of the MDC, both in urban areas as well with many rural black farm workers, meant that white farming communities entered the new millennium in a cautions manner. Unsure of how the land issue would play out, many farmers became active participants in the political upheavals around them. Central to this was their active lobbying for a No vote against ZANU-PF’s constitutional proposals in the constitutional referendum of 2000.[iv] The ruling party saw this defeat as a direct affront to their continued rule and feared the repercussions this would have for the general elections due to be held later that year. ZANU-PF and Mugabe were not prepared to chance another electoral setback so began a campaign of violence and terror to ensure victory.[v]
Due to their effort in this regard, ZANU-PF focused much of their hostility on white farmers. Mugabe and other party leaders ‘blamed the defeat on the white minority and … promised retaliation in volatile political language’.[vi] While in the urban areas there was a massive crackdown on the MDC and other opposition movements, in the countryside, widespread and coordinated land occupations began within a matter of weeks of the constitutional referendum. The sequence of events since the constitutional referendum, and the basic story of the land occupations will be familiar to most readers. I will not repeat those events in detail here. Rather I will supply a very cursory overview of the processes of jambanja, which will be followed by a brief discussion of the political engagement of white farmers since 2000.
In the last week of February 2000, the first occupations were reported in Masvingo. From there occupations spread to Mashonaland and Manicaland and ‘involved not just veterans but also people from communal areas, chiefs and urban residents. Mashonaland rapidly came to the fore … and thereafter the region dominated in terms of numbers of occupations and violence. Matabeleland only later entered the fray’.[vii] It must be remembered that approximately 60% of commercial farmers operated in Mashonaland. At the forefront of these land occupations were veterans of the Liberation War. However, as Nelson Marongwe pointed out, it was very rare for the occupiers to consist entirely of war veterans. By his estimates, war veterans were only 15-20% of land occupiers and they were supported by numerous other populations, such as those from communal lands, rural and urban landless, other ZANU-PF supporters and various opportunists.[viii] Nevertheless, war veterans became the figureheads of the movements onto white land. Many of the occupations were peaceful, but some were highly confrontational and violent.
The word, apparently popularised by a chart topping song ‘jambanja Pahotera’ about two couples caught in extra-martial affairs, became synonymous with the land invasions.[ix] With no precise definition, the word was, and still is, used to encompass a range of violent and angry confrontations on the land, which varied in degree, severity and manner. The journalist Tagwirei Bango summarised the zeitgeist of the word in the Daily News newspaper:
For new words to get accepted into a language, they must reflect the mood of the time, fill in a vacuum in the standard lexicon and be accepted as an appropriate form of expression. Thus, the word jambanja which became part of our vocabulary in the past two years, helped people to accept their confusion with an executive order directing the police to ignore crimes classified as political. jambanja means state-sponsored lawlessness. The police are not expected to intervene or arrest anyone in a jambanja scene because those taking part will have prior state blessing and approval. But, only one interest group, war veterans and ZANU(PF) supporters, is allowed to engage in a jambanja.[x]
From these early jambanjas and land occupations, there was substantial evidence that many were supported and coordinated by government and state officials. Jocelyn Alexander and JoAnn McGregor found that many of the war veterans occupying farms ‘consistently maintained that they had received direction from the national level of their association regarding which farms to occupy’. Government officials supplied lists of farms.[xi] In addition, army personnel, members of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and police were directly involved in some occupations, while local politicians and their employees were often seen assisting “settlers” to remain on the land with food handouts and cash payments.[xii] “Settler” is a highly charged word in Zimbabwe because of its colonial legacies and was deliberately employed by ZANU-PF to describe those whose land was occupied as part of the fast-track land reforms. Its use by ZANU-PF and the war veterans undermined the white farmers claims to a settler heritage and past.
Since 2000 the countryside has remained a contested space. The vast majority of white farmers and landowners have been evicted from their homes and farms, yet while it is estimated that fewer than 300 white commercial farmers remain on their land (down from nearly 5,000 at the turn of the millennium), evictions and violent confrontations on such properties have been a constant reality over the last decade and continue to take place. The recent documentary films Mugabe and the White African and House of Justice show that even after a SADC Tribunal ruling in November 2008, ordering the government of Zimbabwe to protect the applicants (in total 78 commercial farmers) rights to occupy and use their farm, white farmers continue to face the threat of violence and eviction.[xiii] At every election in Zimbabwe since independence, but particularly after 2000, land has been a key focal point for ZANU-PF. With the possibility of fresh elections to be held in 2011, it is likely that land, and its control and ownership, will once again be used as a powerful election tool by ZANU-PF.
Ramifications of jambanja
Despite the scale of destruction wrought on the white farming community, numerous institutional structures survive that claim to represent white farmers. The Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (CFU), which was founded in 1942, (originally the Rhodesian National Farmers’ Union) and overwhelmingly represented the interests of white commercial farmers, continues to exist, although in a much depleted capacity. The tribulations of the land occupations caused massive fissures in the farming community as a range of different responses to the fast-track land reforms and jambanja emerged. As a result, other bodies have materialised since 2000 that have sought to represent white farmers in ways that the CFU has not. These are the Southern African Commercial Farmers’ Association (SACFA, which was formed by white farmers in Matabeleland to represent their interests after the land occupations in 2000), Justice for Agriculture (JAG, which was established in 2002 to advocate and lobby for white farmers who had been adversely affected by the fast-track land reforms) and Agric Africa (which was established in 2004 to pursue the compensation claims of white farmers).
Numerous factors were responsible for this fragmentation of the white farming community. Firstly, the invasions had far exceeded what farmers had expected was likely to happen. By the end of June 2000, the CFU reported that 1525 farms (or 28% of farms owned by its members) had been occupied.[xiv] Many in the farming community thought that these land occupations would be resolved once the parliamentary elections of 2000 were resolved. Richard Tate (the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association President) reportedly stated in 2000, ‘the sooner the elections are over and ZANU is back in power, the sooner we can get back to the business of farming’.[xv] However, the land occupations did not stop and continued to escalate. jambanja turned into a battle of attrition for many farmers as occupiers settled on farms and constantly sought to interfere with farming operations. Secondly, the ensuing invasions were highly uneven processes, differing in nature from district to district, province to province and dependent on the individuals involved.[xvi] The murder of several farmers heightened the anxieties, and prompted a number of farmers to ask for more action and protection from the CFU for members affected by the land occupations.
Understandably, 2000 was a very chaotic time for the CFU to make sense of what was unfolding and in deciding what the best strategy for confronting the issues were. Initially the CFU was very active in documenting the land occupations and regularly published situation reports of happenings on farms.[xvii] In addition it pursued several legal challenges against the fast-track land reforms. But it soon became clear that the CFU was intent on taking up a much more conciliatory approach to government and the war veterans. Essentially the CFU decided that it would be best for the farming community to revert back to its pre-referendum stance and stay out of politics. Legal challenges were aborted and alternative arrangements made. The Farmer magazine, which had been a part of the Union since 1943, was shut down in 2002 because it was felt that the reportage in The Farmer was too explicit and politically involved. The CFU feared that this would jeopardise any chance it had in negotiating with government. In 2001, the Zimbabwe Joint Resettlement Initiative (ZJRI), led by ex-CFU president Nick Swanepoel counselled that compromise was the only way to resolve the land issues and proposed to offer government a million hectares of land for resettlement. The proposal had some merit, but when it came to light that the controversial figure of John Bredenkamp was involved, many farmers refused to support the initiative. This proposal never really took of the ground, but the CFU maintained its placatory stance. In 2006 the CFU officially announced that it would reengage with ZANU-PF, ‘but warned that it would only represent members willing to recognise the government’.[xviii]
Large numbers of farmers openly disagreed with the CFU’s decision to keep talking to government and the war veterans to find a solution, even when it seemed obvious that neither of those parties respected any promises or arrangements made. The government’s disregard of the Abuja Agreement and the recommendations of the ZJRI confirmed such suspicions. As a result organisations such as JAG and SACFA emerged to represent farmers who had been evicted and who wished to continue pursuing legal and other challenges. JAG in particular came to largely represent evicted farmers as it strove to expose the illegal and unconstitutional nature of the land occupations. However, these bodies have suffered their own internal divisions and organisational difficulties and the future of JAG is a matter of much debate at the moment as it seeks to resolve debilitating leadership issues. Individual farmers have also continued to pursue their own legal challenges. At the forefront of these was the appeal taken to the SADC Tribunal by Mike Campbell in 2008. The resultant victory there offered many farmers a glimmer of hope of resolution, but the subsequent disregard of this ruling by ZANU-PF, in spite of a contempt of court ruling by the SADC Tribunal in June 2009, once again squashed any remaining optimism.
Despite the fragmentation of the farming community and the multiple approaches taken to confront the crises in the countryside, there has been one consistency in their approach. This has been to remain apolitical. The backlash of the constitutional referendum and the obvious targeting of farmers supportive of the MDC saw many farmers retreat from the political arena. While certain individual farmers have remained politically active and advocate political solutions, such as Iain Kay, Roy Bennett and Ben Freeth, the institutional approaches of the CFU have been remarkably different. Even JAG’s constitution dictated that it remained apolitical, despite the nature of the work it claimed to undertake. For these institutions, and large numbers of farmers, the land was the single origin of the crises affecting Zimbabwe after 2000, and their failure to realize the multiple origins of the crisis further alienated them from much of society.[xix]
There were and are numerous civic and political organizations engaged with opposing Mugabe and ZANU-PF. These groups have often sought to forge alliances with institutions like the CFU and JAG, but all of these advances have been refused. In accordance with this approach, the CFU has recently started to publish a new farming magazine, titled AgriZim, dedicated to ‘farming matters’ only.[xx] The lack of critical reflection of the situation in Zimbabwe or any political commentary in this magazine has already attracted criticism from evicted farmers such as Ben Freeth. In a recent letter to the JAG Open Letter Forum, Freeth commented that, ‘Anyone reading the magazine who didn’t know, would be reassured that farming is all now fine in Zimbabwe now that we are under a GNU [Government of National Unity]. The ZANU PF … leadership must be rubbing their hands in glee at this “official publication of the Commercial Farmers Union”’.[xxi]
This apparent apoliticism is not a new feature of white farming politics, but has been a part of the political identity of this group throughout independent Zimbabwe. This is illustrated by the wholesale withdrawal of farmers from active party politics during the first two decades of independence. This withdrawal was contradicted by the CFU’s blanket endorsement of ZANU after independence, regardless of the government’s abuses that made themselves increasingly obvious as the 1980s progressed. Aligning themselves with the government was not seen by the CFU as a political move and can be regarded as a survival tactic employed by an insecure and threatened white minority. Even though the CFU claimed to be apolitical, many of the decisions it took during the 1980s where politically calculated. For instance, the CFU actively defended the government’s actions in Matabeleland. During the years of Gukurahundi, the CFU praised government in its efforts to restore ‘order’ and ‘security’ in the region.[xxii] The CFU, and white farmers in general, steadfastly refused to question or criticise government’s political motives for the crackdown in Matabeleland in order to preserve their own fragile partnership with ZANU and Mugabe. White farmers were willing to remain “apolitical” as long as their futures and livelihoods were not jeopardised. When Mugabe and ZANU-PF began to target white owned land in the 1990s, white farmers rediscovered their political voice. The problem with the CFU’s apoliticism was that it essentially boiled down to ‘support for the government in return for continuing privileges [which] really amounted to political advocacy for the ruling party and was certainly a conscious strategy’.[xxiii]
By defining themselves as apolitical, white farmers assumed a position and a citizenship (right to be Zimbabwean) that they felt was uncontested and accepted by all, particularly the ruling government. However, when this was questioned and directly attacked by government in the 1990s, as Raftopoulos has shown, white farmers had to become “political” again to proclaim their right of position.[xxiv] This is most clearly illustrated with their initial support of the MDC. However, this invited such a harsh backlash from government that farmers retreated yet again and sought solace in being uninvolved in party politics. For Engin Fahri Isin:
becoming political should be seen neither as wide as encompassing all way of being (conflating being political with being social), nor as narrow as restricting it to being a citizen (conflating polity and politics). The moment the dominated, stigmatized, oppressed, marginalized, and disfranchised agents expose the arbitrary, they realize themselves as groups and constitute themselves as political.[xxv]
Claiming citizenship cannot be done without being political, yet doing so created severe problems for the farming community and their Union. In all white farmers have failed to find a way to resolve the conflict between their claimed citizenship and the belonging denied them by Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Instead, white farmers have found themselves trapped in a position where they are trying to claim the rights of citizenship and place in Zimbabwe, whilst at the same trying to remain apolitical in a political crisis, a major part of which has seen the ruling party mobilise significant resources to bring about the obliteration of the white farming community.
Having given up on political involvement and having shunned any official support for the MDC, the CFU turned against dissenting voices within its own establishment in a bid to further safeguard itself. The decision to shut down The Farmer and stifle voices of dissent was a continuation of CFU policy towards dissenting voices rather than a fundamental shift. As a result of the CFU’s handling of the land invasions, it lost the support of many farmers. The CFU only concerned itself with those farmers still on the land, because to pursue justice for those already evicted would mean confrontation with the government. Its bias towards only those farmers still on the land meant it alienated those farmers who had already been evicted. With that number growing all the time, sympathy for them and fear among the remaining farmers created anger against the CFU and its policy of “quiet diplomacy” in dealing with government. Yet the CFU remained committed to such a policy and distanced itself from all political opposition to protect whatever relationship it still believed it had with the government. As a result CFU has survived, despite the destruction of the white/commercial farming community, but this has caused a number of massive fissures in the community that are unlikely to be easily resolved.
What this short paper has illustrated is that white farmers, and in particular the CFU, have not fundamentally opposed government at every turn during the last decade. Rather, they have often tried to placate ZANU-PF, as they have felt this was the best way to try and secure some future, regardless of how detrimental that has been for relations between those farmers who have been evicted and those who have remained on the land. White farmers and their representatives have followed similar tactics at other times in Zimbabwe’s history, most notably during the violence of Gukurahundi in the 1980s, a point that has been lost on most commentators on the fortunes of white farmers in Zimbabwe since 2000.
i. This paper is a condensed summary of some of the findings of my recently completed PhD thesis, ‘The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: White Farming Voices in Zimbabwe and Their Narration of the Recent Past, c. 1970-2004’ (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Sheffield, 2010). The thesis is due to be published as a book in 2011.
ii. For scholarly simplifications of white farmers and white farming interests see Colin Stoneman and Lionel Cliffe, Zimbabwe: Politics, Economics and Society (London, 1989); Sam Moyo, The Land Question in Zimbabwe (Harare, 1995); Sam Moyo, Land Reform Under Structural Adjustment in Zimbabwe (Uppsala, 2000). For journalistic accounts that have also presented simplified representations of white farmers see David Caute, Under the Skin: The Death of White Rhodesia (Harmondsworth, 1983); Geoff Hill, Battle for Zimbabwe: The Final Countdown (Cape Town, 2003); Martin Meredith, Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe (New York, 2003); Martin Meredith, Mugabe: Power, Plunder and the Struggle for Zimbabwe (London, 2007); Andrew Norman, Robert Mugabe and the Betrayal of Zimbabwe (Jefferson, 2004); Andrew Meldrum, Where We Have Hope: A Memoir of Zimbabwe (New York, 2005); Christina Lamb, House of Stone: The True Story of a Family Divided in War-torn Zimbabwe (London, 2006).
iii. Angus Selby, ‘Commercial Farmers and the State: Interest Group Politics and Land Reform in Zimbabwe’, (D.Phil. Thesis, University of Oxford, 2006), chapters 4 and 5.
iv. Brian Raftopolous, ‘The Crisis in Zimbabwe’, in Brian Raftopoulos and Alois Mlambo (eds.), Becoming Zimbabwe (Harare, 2009), p. 210.
v. See The Justice for Agriculture (JAG) Trust and the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), Destruction of Zimbabwe’s Backbone Industry in Pursuit of Political Power: A Qualitative Report on Events in Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farming Sector Since the Year 2000 (Harare, 2008); General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), If Something is Wrong: The Invisible Suffering of Farmworkers due to “Land Reform” (Harare, 2010).
vi. Brian Raftopoulos, ‘Current Politics in Zimbabwe: Confronting the Crisis’, in David Harold-Barry (ed.), The Past is the Future. (Harare, 2004), p. 13.
vii. Jocelyn Alexander, The Unsettled Land (Harare, 2006), p. 186.
viii. Nelson Marongwe, ‘Farm Occupations and Occupiers in the New Politics of Land in Zimbabwe’, in Amanda Hammar, Brian Raftopoulos and Stig Jensen (eds.), Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business: Rethinking Land, State and Nation in the Context of Crisis (Harare, 2003), p. 179-182.
ix. Joseph Chaumba, Ian Scoones and William Wolmer, ‘From Jambanja to Planning: The Reassertion for Technocracy in Land Reform in South-eastern Zimbabwe’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 41, 4 (2003), p. 540.
x. From the Daily News newspaper, 27 November, 2001, quoted in Chaumba, Scoones and Wolmer, ‘From Jambanja to Planning’, p. 540.
xi. Jocelyn Alexander and JoAnn McGregor, ‘Elections, Land and the Politics of Opposition in Matabeleland’, Journal of Agrarian Change, 1, 4 (2001), p. 511 and footnote 2.
xii. Jocelyn Alexander, ‘”Squatters”, Veterans and the State in Zimbabwe’, in Brian Raftopoulos, Amanda Hammar and Stig Jensen (eds.), Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business: Rethinking Land, State and Nation in the Context of Crisis (Harare, 2003), p. 100. Marongwe also talks about war veterans paying people to occupy land, but not where that money came from. Marongwe ‘Farm Occupations and Occupiers’, p. 169.
xiii. Simon de Swardt (dir.), House of Justice (Harare, 2009); Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey (dirs.), Mugabe and the White African (Stoud, 2009).
xiv. Anon., ‘Chronology’, in David Harold-Barry, (ed.), The Past is the Future (Harare, 2004), p. 269.
xv. Selby, ‘Commercial Farmers and the State’, p. 312.
xvi. Catherine Buckle, African Tears: The Zimbabwe Land Invasions (Johannesburg, 2001); Catherine Buckle, Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe’s Tragedy (Johannesburg, 2002), Lloyd Sachikonye, ‘The Promised Land: From Expropriation to Reconciliation and Jambanja’, in Brian Raftopoulos and Tyrone Savage (eds.), Zimbabwe: Injustice and Political Reconciliation (Harare, 2005), pp. 1-18; Selby, ‘Commercial Farmers and the State’, chapter 6.
xvii. All CFU situation reports used to be online on the CFU’s website. However, that website has been terminated and the information no longer shared publically. The CFU has a new website (www.cfuzim.org), but this no longer carries the situation reports. Many of the situation reports were reproduced on the online news service, zimbabwesituation.com.
xviii. Selby, ‘Commercial Farmers and the State’, p. 313.
xix. Amanda Hammar and Brian Raftopoulos, ‘Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business: Rethinking Land, State and Nation’, in Amanda Hammar, Brian Raftopoulos and Stig Jensen (eds.), Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business: Rethinking Land, State and Nation in the Context of Crisis (Harare, 2003), pp. 4-9.
xx. Deon Theron, President of the CFU stated in the forward of the magazine, ‘The newspapers, internet, news bulletins etc are full of stories of conflict, corruption, despair and death. Anything controversial that will sell. This magazine should be for farmers, and concentrate on farming issues. Sure – I see members discussing land reform and compensation as it affects us all, but the focus – as a farming magazine – should be on farming issues and the way forward’. Deon Theron, ‘Message From the President’, AgriZim, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2010, p. 3.
xxi. Ben Freeth, ‘The New CFU Magazine [letter]’, in JAG Open Letter Forum, No. 724, 5 November 2010.
xxii. There are numerous examples of this support for the government in The Farmer magazine. For example see, Anon., ‘Our Farmers Aid Farmers in Times of Trial’, The Farmer, 25 April, 1983, p. 5; Anon., ‘Farmers Must be Vigilant’, The Farmer, 3 September, 1987, p. 7; Myfanwy van Hoffen, ‘Welcome End of a Ruthless Menace’, The Farmer, November 26, 1987, p. 1.
xxiii. Selby, ‘Commercial Farmers and the State’, p. 177.
xxiv. Brian Raftopoulos, ‘The State in Crisis: Authoritarian Nationalism, Selective Citizenship and Distortions of Democracy in Zimbabwe’, in Amanda Hammar, Brian Raftopoulos and Stig Jensen, (eds.), Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business: Rethinking Land, State and Nation (Harare, 2003), pp. 226-36.
xxv. Engin Fahri Isin, Being Political: Genealogies of Citizenship (Minneapolis, 2002), p. 276.