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32 years on: The former ‘bread basket’ of Africa who has never been able to feed herself?
We celebrate 32 years of independence from an oppressive white settler regime. No apologies there. Where are we today? What have we achieved?
Here is the irony: The 1980s and 90s Zimbabwe was apparently such a farming success that we were referred to as the ‘bread basket’ of Africa. We are told by some that we produced so much food that we had excess amounts of it. These views tend to come from MDC politicians and supporters, as well as from foreigners. One writer, a white farmer who lost his farm to a Zanu PF politician, has even claimed that we were the ‘Switzerland of Africa’.
Yet, any ordinary person who lived in Zimbabwe’s rural areas or cities at the time (MDC, Zanu PF, or apolitical) knew this: Zimbabwe had perennial droughts that lead to hunger and starvation every single year! Many in the rural areas have nearly always relied on food handouts from government and NGOs. Things clearly got a lot worse post 2000, but it is untrue and irresponsible to give the impression that the pre-2000 (pre-land invasions) Zimbabwe had so much food that we fed ourselves well and sent the excess to the rest of Africa. If we did feed the rest of Africa, it was at the expense of our own people. There lies the problem!
Zimbabwe’s large scale farmers of the 80s and 90s were predominantly white and wealthy. They produced grains and tobacco for profit, most of it through exports to international markets. It is through this that Zimbabwe fed the rest of Africa. Admittedly, that earned these farmers and the country some handy forex. Not too bad at all.
We know that as the Zimbabwean black population starved, some farmers exported grains – and the government went and bought it back to feed the masses.
The government land reform
The government land reform was a well intentioned programme. Rather than have people live their whole lives begging for food, give them fertile land so they can produce enough food for their families. Land reform was unacceptable to some farmers who preferred the status quo! It is selfish and sickening to think that anyone, black or white, wants another human being to be their servant for the whole of their life! Hats off to Zanu PF for deciding to correct an evil imbalance.
Lest we forget: Through no fault of theirs, the majority of Zimbabwe’s black people live in arid regions with poor soils. These families were banished from their fertile lands by the white settler regime and forced to settle in these areas where survival is just very difficult.
Now comes Zanu PF with this well intentions land reform. What a sad state of affairs: Zanu PF politicians went for land grab and took, not just the land, but the businesses, together with houses and machinery. That was never part of the deal. We are capable of building our own huts, and all we need is access to fertile land. Today, poor people remain poor and unable to produce enough food for themselves.