Asia and Africa 2004-2005 travel blog

Overview of Great Zimbabwe Ruins

Tiny Fraction of Victoria Falls

Mother & Child

Baobab Lunch

Our Chameleon

Copyright 2005

David Rich 1100 Words


Opportunity knocked. I'd crossed the threshold where writers and journalists not only fear to tread but are forbidden to enter. If I could get by immigration control I might be able to chat with the white farmers in Zimbabwe and find out whether the horror stories were true. So I wrote down my usual occupation on the immigration entry form: 'unemployed', the condition of all freelance writers.

I was disguised as a tourist and did all the touristy things, picnicking under the spreading baobab trees and communing with chameleons slowly strutting their stuff while searching every little off-road for a neatly-lettered sign proclaiming the presence of a farmer with a European surname. My traveling companions from South Africa assured me there'd been many neatly-lettered signs for "white" farms their last trip to Zimbabwe a few years back. But the muddy lanes were blank of signs or habitation and the countryside was overgrown. Locals squatted at the roadside selling hand-hewn mahogany and ironwood rhinos, hippos and elephants but there were no tourists to do the buying. In lieu of farmers I chatted with the locals. They didn't know any white farmers, instead begging me to buy anything. But I had nowhere to put a nearly full-sized elephant. They hadn't sold one for years.

At the Great Zimbabean Ruins I asked the curator about the local farmers and he said there 'weren't none left'. I assumed that meant they'd left the area around Masvingo because I'd found no sign posts pointing to farms owned by Smith or any other name, whether African or Western.

The Bulawayo Chronicle newspaper summarized a statement made by Zimbabwe's permanent Representative to the United Nations and World Trade Organization, Cde Chitsaka Chipaziwa:

"...developing countries understood Zimbabwe's explanations of the human rights situation in the country and managed to get their support to defeat [adverse United Nations'] resolutions. Developing countries understood that the issue was not about human rights, but about a former colonial master--Britain opposed to the land reform program."

The land reform program had decreed that on December 13, 2004 at midnight, all farming operations by white farmers were prohibited. This latest land reform legalized the taking of white farms by whoever wanted one, unless they were white.

The Chronicle explained the governments' diplomatic position, quoting the Zimbabwean Ambassador to Great Britain, the Honorable Cde Simbarashe Mumbengegwi:

"We are extremely fortunate and proud. We are some of the few ambassadors who can walk with their heads high because we have a leader who bows to no foreign power. We are the pride of the diplomatic corps wherever we are. Cde President [Robert Mugabe], you are a darling of the developing world. You have become the spokesman of the developing world."

I asked my traveling companions what 'Cde' meant and they said "Comrade."

I was spurred onward to determine the truth or falsity of stories claiming the ruthless massacre of white Zimbabwean farmers, a brutal means of insuring their absence and acquiring the land for the Honorable Robert Mugabe's government, its supporters, war veterans and hangers-on. Could these horrific reports be true and barbarity hide behind the silken words of diplomacy?

I drove up to Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean border with Zambia and finally met a few tourists visiting both sides, the southern and northern halves of the former British colony of Rhodesia. These tourists had either flown into Zambia from Europe or North America or were passengers in the big overland tours that criss-cross Africa. No one was stopping on the Zimbabwean roadside to buy nearly full-sized rhinos.

Zimbabwe's economy was tatters. Admission to the famous Falls, discovered European-wise by David Livingstone, cost one hundred ninety thousand Zimbabwe dollars ($190,000), 100 South African Rand or $20 U.S. At independence the Zimbabwe dollar was on par with the Rand which was now worth 1900 Zim dollars. When we'd entered Zimbabwe a few days before we'd been quoted 1500 Zim dollars to the Rand, anecdotal evidence of galloping inflation. Half the Zimbabwe population faces imminent starvation as they're mired in one of the fastest shrinking economies on earth, GDP down over 10% a year.

The few farms I saw in Zimbabwe were in ruins. Only the crumbling walls of European style houses still stood. Every piece of metal from copper wire to zinc and tin had been removed and the agricultural land re-gulped by the jungle. No one was working the land. The people who knew how to farm had disappeared along with the jobs of half a million Zimbabwean farm workers.

In Zambia I asked what had happened to the white farmers in Zimbabwe. Joe Brooks, former elephant hunter and defender of his own farm against marauding wild game, said, 'They're right here." He was pointing.

I looked around.

"I mean in Zambia. There's sixty or seventy around here," which was near Choma. "There's none left in Zimbabwe. I mean, hardly any because who wants to wait around and get killed?" CNN estimated 2900 white farmers left in Zimbabwe but I saw none.

"How is Zambia treating you?"

"Zambia offers free land to all Zimbabwean farmers." He meant leaseholds on extremely favorable terms. "But forget about Zambian courts. They're only for insults and chicken thieves."


"Yep. I told my security guy he was useless after someone took off with twenty million kwacha [about $40,000 U.S.] of my equipment and he sued me for calling him useless."

"So what happened?"

Joe gesticulated with a stubby thumb. "I filed a twenty million Kwacha counterclaim for the equipment, just to put a fright in the guy. The magistrate threw his case out as useless and I waived the counterclaim because he had no money anyway. Maybe that'll slow down some of them 'insult' suits."

Zambia is bustling with farming operations from coffee and sugar plantations to self-sufficient local farming projects and it's economy, if not exactly booming, is coming along. Lusaka, the capitol, is lush green, neat as a pin and safe to walk around. Unfortunately Zambian courts are only for white farmers who get their chickens stolen or insult their security guards. But one must conclude there's no human rights abuses of white farmers in either Zambia or Zimbabwe, unless you count insults and chicken thieves in Zambia. As of December 13, 2004 the Zimbabwean government erected the perfect defense against those meddling Western claims of human rights abuses: what white farmers?

When You Go: Surely you're not.

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