Renting land to prop up a dictatorship: that’s how some see the return of a new group of about 120 white farmers to Zimbabwe’s contested agricultural land, where they are leasing plots from supporters of President Robert Mugabe. “These farmers handed Mr. Mugabe victory,” former Zimbabwe Tobacco Association president Andy Ferreira told London’s Telegraph newspaper.
Land is a sore point in Zimbabwe. Over the last decade, more than 4,000 white farmers were forced from their farms as a result of invasions ordered by the 86-year-old Mugabe. The parcels of land were to be handed over to the black majority—a supposed correction of colonial injustices. But the redistribution was accompanied by violence: white farmers faced assault, arson, and about two dozen died during the invasions (of the 278,000 whites who once populated Zimbabwe, only about 12,000 remain.) And that land reform has been widely seen as the reason for Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, and the fallowing of what was once Africa’s breadbasket—agricultural production has dropped by 60 per cent since 2000.
That may be due to the fact that, as a recent investigation by the national news agency ZimOnline has revealed, the Zimbabwean president used the land reforms to reward himself and his supporters—many of whom knew nothing about agriculture—instead of empowering the black majority. Some 40 per cent of 14 million hectares seized from whites is now owned by Mugabe and his cronies. All ministers and deputy ministers in his party are multiple farm owners, and Mugabe and his wife reportedly hold 14 farms with 16,000 hectares of land.
Now, the Telegraph is reporting that there’s been a revival in agricultural production—and it’s because of those returning white farmers who are restoring the land to its former glory. But in order to work on the farms they once ran, they are doing deals with Mugabe’s supporters—the real beneficiaries of land reform. Andy Ferreira has asked international traders to boycott tobacco grown on the disputed land. His term for the harvest? “Blood tobacco.”