During last Wednesday's News Hour, ZBC screened footage of the ruined citrus plantations in Guruve district in Mashonaland Central.
In the news clip, provincial Governor and Resident minister Advocate Martin Dinha ordered the Guruve council to surrender all plantations allocated to it during the land reform programme with immediate effect. He said failure to do so would be in contravention of the Consequential Provisions Act (of 2006).
The footage showed that all citrus plantations given to the local authority were in what ZBC understated as a "sorry" state as a result of neglect. The ZBC footage showed that the plantations - all seven of them - given to the council had been vandalised and the bulk of the trees destroyed by veld fires. In an attempt to salvage the situation the government had allocated the plantations to some farmers deemed productive and given them offer letters, but the council was against the idea and continually disrupted the new farmers' activities.
The dispute between the farmers and the council had led to the continued dereliction of the plantations, hence the move to invoke the Consequential Provisions Act. Dinha said he was concerned over the under-utilisation of the plantations, saying the disruption of farming activities by the Guruve council was a form of sabotage of the land reform programme. Dinha was probably referring to Clause 6 of the Act which validates all offer letters issued before the fixed date and are not withdrawn by the acquiring authority.
The state of the trees - most of them burnt in wild fires - some just dried up due to lack of moisture and the rest almost invisible due to the long wild grass choking them, must have left a lot of people in tears. Irrigation infrastructure had been ripped apart and workshops vandalised by workers.
Reports from around the country and Google Maps reveal that this is the general state of citrus plantations in the country, particularly in estates around Chegutu.
ZBC was very courageous to flight the footage during the same week that President Robert Mugabe was in New York City attending the 67th United Nations General Assembly. Mugabe has used the land reform programme, which he has touted as a resounding success, to throw brickbats at Western countries he accuses of trying to sabotage the programme by slapping sanctions on him and a coterie of his officials to effect a regime change agenda.
But the citrus plantations debacle is a manifestation of everything that has gone wrong with the land reform programme and all other programmes ostensibly meant to redress colonial imbalances. The plantations were, in the heat of the moment, allocated to people who had no clue of how to use them productively.
During the days of land occupations when this was pointed out, many Zimbabweans who said the land was being allocated to people who did not have the requisite skills and wherewithal, were labelled racist. Such sentiments, according to the proponents of wholesale acquisition, implied that blacks were incapable of doing what whites could do. But common-sense, not racism, was at the heart of the sentiments, as the plantations now show.
Now it's time to swallow humble pie!
But what must get Zimbabweans thinking is the puncture on our pride that the plantations have inflicted. Zimbabweans had inured themselves to the relentless criticism of the land reform programme from around the globe and were beginning to speak with one voice that the programme had indeed gone a long way in redressing historical imbalances, and was irreversible. The local private media and the foreign Press were beginning to publicise success stories.
Recently, a powerful American news organisation had carried a story on the land programme and how it had empowered thousands of new tobacco farmers who would otherwise never have had access to land and would still be living in abject poverty. What the report did not say was that these thousands of farmers were mere appendages of foreign capital, mostly Chinese, as they were contract farmers financed by foreigners who reaped bigger benefits.
But the major point to note is that what has happened in the citrus plantations is not unique to the orange sector. Besides the tobacco sector, which is heavily foreign funded, all other sectors have been left derelict due to the lack of expertise and finance. What has become clear is that faced with lack of money and skills, the new farm occupiers chose the easiest way to survive, though temporarily. They chose to loot whatever was available and vandalise the infrastructure; ripping it apart and selling whatever could be sold.
It happened at Kondozi Farm where the most successful horticulture concern was torn to the ground in a matter of a handful seasons, striking a mortal blow to a sector Zimbabwe was among the global leaders. Now there is no horticultural sector in Zimbabwe to speak of. All the flowers and vegetables we used to export have dried out. All the jobs this sector used to sustain have been snuffed out.
But instead of learning a lesson from all the mistakes that were made in the farming sector, the leadership of this country has decided to employ the same wanton tactics in industry, commerce and mining through an ill-thought-out indigenisation programme which is already beginning to have devastating results on the country's economy.
The point is that indigenisation, like land reform, is not being done for the noble reasons that are touted. It is being done so that the same people who invaded farms and discovered that farming wasn't as easy and as rewarding as they thought, can have another dip into the cookie jar, before sanity is restored.
Anyone who doubts this ought to just take a peek at what is happening at conservancies, particularly the Save River Conservancy! What all the noise emanating from the Save debacle is hiding, is that all the other conservancies around the country have been destroyed leaving the Save the last one where rich pickings can still be made; hence the dog-eat-dog fighting among comrades. What is most disheartening is that the same model is being used:
Make as much money as you can, while you still can. So the animals are being hunted down and much money made without putting back any penny into the venture to ensure its sustainability.
It has happened to the vegetables and flowers, then to the fruits and now it is happening to the animals and also the minerals. And soon it will be to the money in the banks.
What will be left of the country for our children?