The Endgame – Ben Freeth -2002

19 June 2002

Ben Freeth is the Regional Commercial Farmers’ Union Officer for Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West Province, but is writing in his own capacity.

It has become abundantly clear to me in the last few weeks that we are now in "The End Game".  The recent Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) survey shows that nearly one third of all title deeds are now closed down completely, and that there is another quarter of all title deeds partially closed down.  The number increases on a daily basis.  Our young people are leaving and our old people, many of whom have not been allowed to farm for a year or more, are using up their savings and their pension monies and will soon be in a position where they cannot recover financially.  A huge resource of expertise is rapidly flowing out from the country. 

As time goes by there are more farm closures, more illegal evictions, more farmers heading to other countries and other continents.  The wanton destruction and lootings seems to not even get reported any longer, but it runs into around a trillion dollars or US$18 billion according to Eddie Cross, Secretary for Economic Affairs for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), when all things are considered. This is three times Zimbabwe's annual G.D.P and US$3.4 billion more than the entire African continent received in foreign aid last year.  

Since 21 March 2001, the CFU has been tirelessly pursuing the "dialogue" route.  The CFU was mandated at that special congress to put together a solution to the land problem.  The Zimbabwe Joint Resettlement Initiative (ZJRI) was formed and high-level meetings with Government Ministers, Civil Servants, Vice Presidents and even the President have ensued.  ZJRI was accepted by everyone as "the way forward".  Farmers offered over a million hectares of land and we as the CFU had them believe that compensation was on the way.  To date less than 100 of these farmers have got compensation and of this number many of them have only received a very small percentage of the amount due.  Minister Joseph Made now tells us that compensation will not be available at all as this money will be reallocated to the people that he has put on our farms.

Meanwhile, as the dialogue continues, almost all the remaining white-owned farms have been listed for compulsory acquisition.  Our farms have continued to be pegged, and settlers have continued to be allocated lands that we were busy trying to farm.  The latest spate of the "landless" onto our farms has included the ZANU (PF) faithfuls that we are currently in dialogue with.  In many cases they are commandeering our equipment, moving us out of our homes, and denying us everything that has been built up over many years.  Due to the part-time nature and the inexperience of these "new farmers" they are doomed to fail. Thousands of hectares of irrigation schemes currently lie idle in a country where our people are beginning to starve. 

The latest stage in this "controlled revolution"- passed while the dialogue goes on - is the enacting of a new law.  This states that after receiving an arbitrary bit of paper signed by the Minister of Agriculture, we have 45 days to completely wind down our operations and disperse all our livestock.  For 60% of white farmers and our workers it will become illegal for us to even feed our animals or water our wheat after 24 June 2002.  From 8 August 2002 it will become illegal for us and our workers to live in our houses.  The punishment for these offences is a Z$20 000.00 fine or two years imprisonment - or both.  Given the fact that more than 20% of the population of Zimbabwe lives on white-owned farms, and that 60% (and the number is growing every day) of these have received these arbitrary bits of paper, there are now in excess of 1 million people that stand to lose their homes and their livelihoods at the stroke of a pen.  Parliament heard the argument, but ZANU (PF) drove it through and the very people that we have been in dialogue with knowingly voted to stop production, and to turf us out of our homes. 

In the meantime, the dialogue continues, and huge efforts have been made to try to get letters of comfort to ensure that we are not arrested for growing the wheat that Government has said that it needs.  A lot of farmers have even planted in faith without any price having been announced, and without any guarantee that they will not be charged for the offence that they will be committing under the laws of Zimbabwe, and locked up for two years.

Many other farmers have had their tractors chased out of the lands and have pleaded with the authorities to allow them to produce food for the starving nation.  The banks have also required these letters of comfort, and in recent days, have started to shut farmers down because despite the many Government ministers that have been seen, nobody is prepared to repeal the law that they voted for, or provide a letter of comfort on which basis the banks can lend. 

As this goes on, the tobacco crop continues to be sold at an exchange rate of 99:1, where the parallel market rate is 600:1 and more.  Tobacco, which provides getting on for half of the foreign currency that the country requires to bring in food and inputs, is being closed down as an industry.  Nobody can say the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA) has not dialogued with Government from the very beginning.

On Sunday 2 June 2002, Charles Anderson went back to his house with his family after being away for an hour.  The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture had managed to get this farm allocated to himself, and Charles Anderson was busy having to pack up.  He found that his house had been broken into, and when he went inside was shot in the head at close range by two men waiting for him with a loaded AK47 (which I understand has been traced back to the Minister of Home Affairs' body guard).  He died on the spot. 

I think everyone will agree that dialogue has been tried, and that dialogue has completely failed in providing an enabling environment for Zimbabwe to prosper.  The Commercial Farmers' Union has tried it, the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association has tried it, The South Africans have tried it, and the other SADC neighbouring states have also tried it.  The Commonwealth, the European Union, and the United States have had a go, and various agreements have been brokered like the one in Abuja which was disregarded in all its aspects as though it had never been written.  Our country now faces starvation and it appears that the internationals are wanting to come in to bail us out.  This is good and right, but some very firm conditions clearly need to be set with some very tough implications if the "lawlessness" and "controlled revolution" is allowed to continue. 

Party Strategy

It is important to look at the strategy being employed by those wishing to perpetuate the situation, and to realise where this strategy has come from.  In the 1960s and 1970s our leaders spent a lot of time in communist countries learning the ideology of communism.  The Russian communist Trotsky, in a pamphlet entitled "The Defensive of Terrorism”, wrote: "Intimidation is the most powerful instrument in politics, international and internal.  War, like revolution, is based on intimidation".  In the 1920s in the first of Stalin's 5-year plans, Stalin ordered the complete genocidal liquidation of the wealthier peasants after they resisted collectivisation.  When starvation became a reality he began to pour out statements of anguish for the people, blaming the starvation on overzealous Government officials, many of whom were liquidated. 

By 1933, his regime was ready to collapse. (It was only due to the unlikely combination of two events outside his borders that he managed to remain in power. First the United States of America suddenly decided to recognize his regime as legitimate because of some false promises that he made, and second Adolf Hitler came into power and Stalin was able to rally the people against a common enemy).  Our leaders have learnt the ideology of communism, and it is not surprising that the very same methods that were used to completely control the population in Russia are currently being used today in Zimbabwe. 

"The Herald" on June 5, 2002 carried a large article entitled "Let's Embrace Communism - ideology a panacea for socio-economic ills". It stated, "The achievements of this ideology are proof of its correctness".   It said "hupfumatese (communism) must remain our guiding star forever", and the writer called for "urgent unity on humfumatese which we proclaimed as our goal two decades ago".  The controlled revolution taking place at this time, using legal instruments to help it on its way, is clearly heading towards totalitarian control.  The recent statements by Minister Made that all white farmers would be off their land by the end of August, and the resulting legislation that all ZANU (PF) parliamentarians voted for is clear proof of this. It is difficult to totally control a population while our eyes and ears see and hear of the intimidation taking place, and we broadcast it all over the world.

State media also had this to say, "At the farms which are occupied by the Europeans, you who surround the farms, we ask you, children of Zimbabwe, to enter those farms.  Drive away or remove the louse which is biting you."  And "We ask you to see that the tobacco does not grow on the farms, that the factories do not continue to function.  Let them be closed.  If they can be burnt, burn them.  Those farms where tobacco is being grown must be burnt, the factories must be burnt...".  And "Kill many cattle... go to the farms and take the cattle, if you are not able to take them, hamstring them."

These were put out by the Zambian broadcasting corporation through the Liberation Movement of the leaders of today in 1965.  What has changed?  37 years on the farmers - or many of them, are still here.  We are now, however, playing the end game.  The only way that power can be retained by the party now is through total control.  The only way that total control can be achieved is through terror and confusion, and driving us off our properties.

When Charles Frizell stated in the "Daily News" on June 5, 2002 that "the CFU has failed - seldom in history have a group so utterly failed to understand the strategy of their opponents", I felt hurt because the CFU has worked tirelessly in trying to assist its members under conditions that few agricultural unions have ever had to face in history.  Farmers understand farming, not politics. But I believe there is truth in what Mr. Frizell had to say. 

The strategy is surely to remove, in as controlled a manner as possible, every single white farmer from his land.  They wish to do it quietly, but if it takes the odd murder to help it on its way, murders happen.  The plan is being executed with insidious cunning. In a similar way to the torturer's relationship to their victim, so we are led by the nose.  One torturer beats us and then when we cannot take any more the other torturer comes in and is sweet and nice, and so the victim is broken down.  In the very same way we have the one torturer taking our farms and stopping our incomes, and driving us out of our homes and killing our friends, and the other torturer talking sweetly to us and making us think that we are heading for a breakthrough in our dialogue.  We are confused and terrified and unable to move forward with the resoluteness that is required to sort the situation out. 

The strategy of the party is quite clearly to attain totalitarian control through fear and confusion.  How are they to achieve this in the commercial agricultural community?

  1. The first thing that they are doing is trying, through a legal and illegal process, to drive us from our farms where we are an instrumental part of the eyes and the ears to the horrors that are going on amongst 25% of the Zimbabwean population.  The "legal" part of this is the various legal instruments that are being passed and the regular replacing of members of the High Court and the Supreme Court benches with party faithfuls, and the beginning of the persecution and imprisonment of lawyers now being seen.  It was in this same way that Adolf Hitler eventually came to be in complete control of making laws and judging individuals on their misdeeds.  The "illegal" part of it is obvious for everyone to see.
  2. They use the state media to put in racist propaganda to justify the evictions in a similar way to Goebbels in the 3rd Reich.  The first threats took place in the early ‘30s regarding the annihilation of the Jews, but nobody did anything about it.
  3.  In order to achieve the eviction process they need to ensure that the CFU remains out of court because to embarrass them in this way will slow the process of getting us off our farms up and put more pressure on them internationally.
  4.  In the dialogue they are making it look to the CFU that the CFU is getting somewhere and that a breakthrough is imminent.  This false hope delays the CFU from taking the actions that need to be taken. 
  5. The people involved in the farming leadership have their farms left relatively untouched, just to make those leaders take a little longer to make the right decisions.  I  am one of these leaders.  This is also done to create a lack of confidence in the farming leadership.
  6. They try to get the "dialoguer's" enmeshed in such a web of confusion and involvement that the "dialoguer's" don't get out to their members, and are not able to communicate all the intricate details of the various undercover arrangements that are being made thus distancing themselves from their members.
  7. They try to break us economically.  The current tobacco price is a sure way of doing this.  They know that the ZTA will do nothing to "rock the boat".
  8. They use their agents to subvert the free press and to quietly close down independent papers like "The Farmer" magazine, without the readership really getting to know about it. 
  9. They will not stop until total control is achieved.  They cannot afford any opposition to continue to exist.  While they are around the terror will continue.  The next thing that will be closed down is the Union itself. Unless we restructure quickly and in the right manner we will close down ourselves.

What can we do?

I think the real question is - What should we do?  What is the right thing to do?  What will happen if we do not do what is right?  The history of similar regimes throughout the 20th century and the history of the current regime is important to bear in mind. If we just "hang in there" without doing anything more than dialoguing, the ethnic cleansing of Nazi Germany scenario is surely not beyond the realms of possibility. 

In J.P.Sterns' book, "The Furher and His People", he expresses the view that if the church had stood up against the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish people, the holocaust would never have happened.  It must have been easy for the German people to have just said, "let's hang in there".  In communist Russia and its satellite states, when there was no hope in sight, it must have been very easy after sixty years of communism and totalitarian control to just say "let's hang in there". 

We all know what happened to the Jews that "hung in there" in Nazi Germany.  It took the Russian people to show what could happen when the people said "enough"!  In Poland in the mid 1970s the workers defence committee decided to start acting in the way they thought society should become.  If you want freedom of speech, speak freely.  If you want an open society, act openly.  If you love the truth, tell the truth.  They started to hold open meetings with known informers in their midst.  They wrote newspaper articles and handed them out on street corners with their names and their addresses attached to them.  They discovered that inner freedom gives sustenance even when external freedom is snatched away.  Against all odds they clung to the fundamental principles of truth and justice, despite the fear of imprisonment and worse.

One man once wrote, "The power of fearlessness is astonishing.  I think of those who were giving the orders.  They were under a real tyranny and far more the victim of it than I was.  When they were yelling their orders at me, I had a vivid image of these tiny creatures assaulting my feet, wanting to demolish me with orders, while I was way above, not on their level at all.  They could threaten me with anything at all and not get me, because I wasn't afraid.  This was immensely liberating to me.  I could be the person I was without fearing them.  They had no power over me". The movement spread all through the Eastern Bloc countries. Remarkably, we have seen these brave people triumph.  An alternative kingdom of people united by ideas, a kingdom of rags, of prisoners, of poets and philosophers toppled what seemed an impregnable fortress in country after country.

When I mention these sorts of things to the more weak-kneed in our communities, the reply is invariably "this is Africa, you know what happens to those who stand on principle in Africa".  My reply to them is "this is Africa.  1920s Russia was 1920s Russia.  1930s Germany was 1930s Germany.  Where good men stood by and did nothing, evil flourished.  Fortunately the men who stood for appeasement were eventually deposed and men with vision and principle and courage took their places.  The world would not be the same today if they had not.  Churchill saw the appeaser as "the one feeding the crocodile in the hope that he would be the last eaten".  If he and the countless men who risked their lives and lost them for the cause of right had rather said "let's hang in there", the world would have been very different today.

The issues need to be confronted now before it is too late.  If they are not done publicly and courageously they are of no use, and we are merely succumbing to the paranoia trap on which totalitarianism thrives.  We say, "let us do things cleverly", I say, "let us do things openly".  We say, "let us do things quietly", I say, "let us do things with as much fanfare as we possibly can".  We say, "let us not expose this person’s evil", I say "shout it from the rooftops".  If everyone does what is right and exposes what is wrong and evil and does so with courage and direction not counting the cost, we will win through.  If we are always counting the cost of every right action and not doing it out of fear, the battle for freedom and justice is lost.  The longer we delay doing what is right the more the judiciary, the police force, and the law will be subverted.  So long as evil is allowed to flourish our people will leave and death and destruction will continue.  I have heard it said that it would be suicidal to do what is right.  I believe it is suicidal not to. Let us not be afraid, for with God we shall always be in the majority.

Please send comments if you wish to.  I have my own very firm ideas on how to stand up for what is right, but would appreciate yours.