Reflections on fate

20 11 2006

I have just got back from exercising Jenni on the farm where I live. It was a beautiful evening, typical for summer. Large cumulus clouds were building in the east, lit up by the setting sun. Irrigation sprinklers were gently “tufting” completely out of sync. There was no indication that anything is wrong in Zimbabwe. It all seemed completely normal.

Earlier in the afternoon I’d been to visit Peter, an ex-farmer on whose farm I’d lived when working for a vegetable export business. It was also idyllic and I enjoyed many an evening’s walk with my two dogs over the huge granite “kopjes” on the northern boundary of the farm. It’s all gone now (no, the granite will be there forever of course); the last I saw there was a small cleared patch near one of the dams and the rest was just weeds. I have not been back there for some time.

Peter, however, was not just a farmer. He had a substantial share in the vegetable export business and fingers in a number of other pies around town. He’s a sharp businessman and it shows in the property he’s bought and put a not insubstantial amount of effort and money into renovating. I did not ask him why he still lives here as I thought it obvious – he could not have this lifestyle anywhere else.

Dave is another ex-farmer from the Raffingora area some 120km north of Harare. Like Peter he had an idyllic farm, nestled in kopjes and msasa groves in which leopards lurked and much to his delight took the occasional calf. Dave also lost his farm but managed to get a few implements and equipment off. It’s all been sold now and he works as a caretaker at a local private school. He enjoys his job; he is a perfectionist and played cricket at national level so can still indulge in preparing the perfect pitch, but it’s not like living in the bush and between him and his wife they can make ends meet.

Gary is a big man in every way. He still farms though he lost most of his farm to A2 farmers (medium scale often “weekend” farmers who want to “have a go”). The remainder of the farm is too small to be economic but he hangs in there for the lifestyle which includes guiding canoe trips on the Zambezi, acting as a foster parent for neglected community children, producing the Christmas pantomime and his animals. Long a national polo player they have dozens of polo ponies and a giraffe called Rebecca. Rebecca is drop dead gorgeous with legs that go on forever and eyelashes to die for. She had a calf but it was killed by “war vets”*. Oh, did I mention the pack of Rhodesian Ridgebacks, the pack of Dachshunds (turbo rats as I call them), the parrot, the guinea pigs, the hornbill the crowned crane the…. When I worked in the area I knew Gary to be the easiest going man around. Sadly that is not the case anymore and I don’t think he’s very happy farming at all. He is continually being threatened to help out various A2 farmers or else. It is very stressful.

Other Gary is my best friend, though I don’t see him that much, and he lives in Mozambique. He also lost his farm in Penhalonga which is on the eastern border of Zim and suffered the indignity of watching US$65000 worth of hard wood being stolen in front of him. The local police watched too. I had already helped him get various implements off the farm by the “back” route. Gary is the least materialistic person I know, so long as he has enough money for a beer or two and his paraglider then he is happy. It drives his wife June, scatty. June works as a local headmistress while Gary works for an NGO in Mozambique. Between them they make ends meet and fund their youngest son’s university education. It has not done their marriage much good but they are holding on.

The people above have all survived. They are relatively lucky. A lot are not coping and stories abound of suicides, abandoned children and broken marriages. They are also all whites (though I know there have been casualties amongst the black commercial farmers who don’t have the right “connections”).

There is the absurd optimism amongst a lot of people in this country that “it has to come right sometime”. When I ask them why they cannot give me a reason, maybe they think we are tossing a fate coin here and it must eventually come up heads. I don’t share that mindless optimism (I’m all for optimism, I just find the mindless sort irritating). A lot of people with the right connections are making a lot of money and it is not in their interest to change the status quo. Peter Godwin was correct when he stated in a National Geographic article that the old style, large scale, hyper efficient (and many were just that) commercial farms are gone forever. So are most of the commercial farmers and their skills have not been transferred and many of their farms are derelict. For an agricultural economy such as Zimbabwe’s that can only mean disaster.

The landscape was deceiving me.

* war vet – often derogatory term for those claiming to be ex-combatants on the side of Joshua Nkomo’s ZIPRA or Robert Mugabe’s ZANLA during the civil war here. Many are far too young to have participated.

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One response

25 11 2006
Gillian

I think its more a case of how much we’re willing to put up with or go without in order to remain in Africa. Its the bush, the climate, the insects, the animals, the people, the sunsets, the smells – nothing else would feel like home. The more of an African you are, the more you’re willing to sacrifice to stay?

Its a lot easier for me to say this since we haven’t had our farm taken away in SA, and life is a lot easier for us in many ways (economically).

I dunno. Its Africa and its in our blood – even if it isn’t reflected in the colour of our skins.

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