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Page last updated at 22:59 GMT, Tuesday, 13 April 2010 23:59 UK

Zimbabwe's new farmers defend their gains

Children of unemployed farm workers in Zimbabwe

Under President Robert Mugabe's land reform programme, some 4,000 white farmers have been driven away and their land given to black farmers. The BBC's Dan Isaacs talks to Zimbabwe's new farming class.

Endy Mhlanga, a war veteran of Zimbabwe's war of independence, sits with me in the garage of his recently acquired farmhouse.

A pot of maize meal bubbles on an open fire beside us.

It is getting dark, but there is no electricity. Power cuts - often lasting days - are a regular feature of life here. And the mosquitoes are descending.

"As war veterans we are satisfied that the programme of land reform has succeeded," Mr Mhlanga tells me.

"It might not be 100%, but now the land is with the people of Zimbabwe."

Endy Mhlanga, supporter of Zimbabwe's liberation war
Had they agreed to share nicely, none of these troubles would have happened
Endy Mhlanga
Land-owner

Mr Mhlanga's farm is on prime agricultural land, but now most of it is lying fallow.

What was once a large commercial farm now produces nothing for export, and where once there were intensively irrigated fields of wheat and tobacco, rough grassland now stretches into the distance.

One small field of maize is growing near the farmhouse, a few turkeys cluck their way around an old tennis court, and a dozen or so cattle graze at the bottom of the garden.

"We have the ability to work on the land," explains Mr Mhlanga, "but we're prevented from doing so because of a lack of funding.

"Investors aren't forthcoming, so we aren't able to do much with the land. For us, this is really a silent war."

A decade ago, there were more than 4,000 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe.

But years of President Mugabe's land reform programmes have forced these farmers out, markedly changing the Zimbabwean farming scene and jarring the agriculture-based economy.

Today, there are just a few dozen left, and many of those have now been served with eviction orders.

As a former secretary-general of the country's pro-Mugabe war veterans association, Mr Mhlanga was actively involved in those evictions, and now recalls the violent tactics used to force the white farmers to leave.

"I don't have any regrets," he tells me. "Had they agreed to share nicely, none of these troubles would have happened."

The collapse in agricultural output across the country has had catastrophic consequences for Zimbabwe's economy.

Some four million people have fled the country over the past decade, and although economic conditions have improved recently, the overwhelming majority of those who stayed no longer have formal employment.

Rose garden

Johannes Vengesai lost his job when the farm he was working on was occupied by the "war veterans".

He was thrown out of his home as well, and he now lives with his family in a disused tobacco silo.

Dan Isaacs
Stan and Jane Kasukuwere say their new land is a birthright

It is a squatters' life - he has been threatened with eviction from here too but says he has got nowhere else to go.

"What bleeds my heart," says Joseph, a farmer who was evicted from an adjacent citrus farm, "is that if we leave the land lying idle like this, we're not growing any future for ourselves."

As we look out over thousands of untended citrus trees he explains that all they produce now are shrivelled, bitter lemons.

"As a country we are losing millions of dollars, and as ordinary Zimbabweans we can no longer afford to send our children to school."

But it is a very different country for those who have directly benefited from the land reform.

At the farmhouse now owned by Stan and Jane Kasukuwere, lunch has been set out in the garden under a spreading jacaranda tree. 

The well-tended lawn sweeps down to a rose garden and swimming pool. Beyond the fence, their land stretches as far as the eye can see.

If we leave the land lying idle like this, we're not growing any future for ourselves
Joseph
Evicted famer

Mr and Mrs Kasukuwere are supporters of President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, and they have been allocated this previously white-owned farm on rich agricultural land.

It is not long before the lunch talk turns to politics.

"This is my country, the land is my birthright," Mrs Kasukuwere tells me.

"I feel sorry for the previous white owners of this farm, but I don't feel guilty. It's a tough world."

"What Mugabe has done is break the ice," says Mr Kasukuwere.

"He's the first African leader to stand up publicly and criticise our former colonial masters. Mugabe is one hell of an African leader."

'Revolution'

A minority of well-connected Zimbabweans have benefited from the reforms, but the overwhelming majority are far poorer than they were a decade ago.

And because of the violent and politicised way it has been carried out, support for President Mugabe has fallen sharply.

But to challenge the reform process is to be seen as both a colonial puppet and against black empowerment.

So, despite his lack of popularity, Mr Mugabe's political opponents have so far found it impossible to defeat him.

Unemployed farm workers in Zimbabwe
Many farm workers have been left unemployed as a result of the seizures

This is why for the time being - and after long and slow deliberation - they have entered into an alliance with Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.

It is this unity government that has brought about a degree of economic stability, and a reduction in political violence.

But the farm invasions have continued to this day, and no political group within this fragile coalition has called for them to be stopped, let alone reversed.

Back in Harare, it was not hard to track down the owner of one of the abandoned citrus plantations I had visited.

"You've got to understand, that we've been through a revolution," explains Bright Matonga, a former government minister, and currently a Zanu-PF member of parliament.

"Things have calmed down now, and soon production will pick up."

When I asked him about his forlorn citrus tree plantations and the destitute workers living nearby, he blamed a lack of credit available from banks and the "sanctions" being imposed on Zimbabwe.

"I think, rather than to criticise the land reform process," he argued, "you have to understand that it had to take place and that it is now irreversible."



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