Life for Whites in Zimbabwe Under Mugabe Tyranny

by Paul Weir

22 June 2004

In October 2002 my brother and his family were evicted from the 7,000-acre farm in Zimbabwe which my father had first hacked out of virgin bush in 1923. It was a productive and profitable operation to the end despite twenty years of black rule: about 300 acres of top-of-the-line export tobacco, a thousand head of beef cattle and about ten acres of greenhouse roses, flown weekly to Europe. My brother had also set up in 1990 a 3,000-acre acre game farm along with his neighbors as a wild animal preservation, a cause dear to his heart. This included seven giraffe and herds of impala, wildebeest, gazelles and zebras. Periodically, hunter-tourists from the U.S. would fly in to cull the herds. About 200 blacks were employed on the farm, along with their families, and were paid a government-set wage and given free housing, electricity and running water. My brother, like many others, has over the years paid huge taxes to the government.

Most of the farmers living in the district suffered the same fate. My niece who was married to a local farmer also had to leave her home of five years with her young family and move to Harare.

Nearly two years later, all of these wonderfully run farms have gone to hell.

Ninety percent of the country's white farmers, numbering about 3,000, have been forced off their farms without compensation. Most of the farm employees have also been evicted by government-backed "war vets". My brother was obligated to pay compensation to these ex-workers.

During the evictions, many of the farmers were barricaded into their homes as hordes of Mugabe's squatters threatened to kill them. Some whites were murdered; one of them was a neighbor and close friend of my brother. Another held a posse of blacks at bay for two hours before he was slaughtered.

In the main, the farmers and their families abandoned their property peaceably and left their life's work behind because there was no other option. They did not seek violence. They were first-rate farmers who loved the land where they were born but they were outnumbered and unsupported.

Last week, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's elderly dictator, announced that he wants the remaining 30,000 whites living in the towns out of the country by the end of 2005. I am sure he means what he says.

There hasn't been a word about any of this in the U.S. media.

A little background...

Cecil John Rhodes set up the British South Africa Company in 1896 and sent a column of pioneers into the area bordering the Transvaal along the Limpopo River. Rhodes had amassed a huge gold and diamond fortune backed by the British Rothschilds. His plan was to establish British influence from Cape Town to Cairo, and "Rhodesia" became the foundation stone in his imperial dream.

In this vast area south of the Zambezi River, there were two tribal groups, the Mashona and the Matabele, an offshoot of the Zulus. Within five years both had been quelled. My grandparents decided to try their hand in Rhodesia and they moved in 1898 from Johannesburg to the pioneer town of Bulawayo. They were doing what countless white American pioneers had been doing for a century across the hinterland of America.

Within twenty years the country was flourishing with an infrastructure of roads, railways, agriculture and a mining industry which provided gold and chrome. Self-government was granted by England in 1923. The black population, about 250,000 when the whites arrived, had reached nine million by the 1980's. My grandmother, like many others, handed out quinine and penicillin at the back door and probably saved thousands of lives. Unlike the American Indians who were almost wiped out, the blacks in Rhodesia not only survived but were provided with primary education and low-wage jobs.

The Mashona, traditionally subject to raids from the more war-like Matabele were secure for the first time in their history.

My father was born in 1899 and grew up in Rhodesia, later attending a public school in England. It was 1917 and soon he had joined the Royal Flying Corps as a trainee pilot, flying early planes across the Channel.

After the war, he returned to Rhodesia and bought a piece of land with the help of a government loan. It was a lonely life, traveling around his property on a horse but he persevered and by the fifties was running a prosperous tobacco-growing operation.

The same year he started the farm, 1923, a black child was born on a Jesuit mission at Kutama, about twenty miles from our farm as the crow flies. This child's name was Robert Mugabe.

My father married my mother on a visit to England in the 1930's. She exchanged a life of familiar English suburban comfort for an unknown future in a strange land surrounded by blacks. They lived in a thatched brick house at first, but she soon adapted and raised us three children.

One of our neighbors was the Taylor family whose daughter became the novelist Doris Lessing. Her father, like mine, was a veteran of the First World War but he didn't prosper whether due to bad luck, bad weather or lack of capital. I never knew Doris Taylor who was born 25 years before I was, though my mother did. She resented her lowly status as the daughter of a "poorer white" and identified with the blacks, throwing her lot in with their plight and became a communist. I remember listening to the grown-ups on the verandah in the early '50s who were scandalized that she had betrayed her white background with her first novel The Grass is Singing which came out in Britain. She had touched on the forbidden subject of black-white sexual relationships. In those days there was a law against interracial sex and although there were white men who had "gone black" by taking a black mistress, white women were sacrosanct.

I did my military service in 1964 in Ian Smith's army and left the country for good in 1968. The writing was always on the wall for me from the time I was a small boy. We whites were outnumbered and it was obvious that Britain would undermine white rule at every turn, which they did. My brother was the farmer in the family. He loved the life which he had grown up with.

The war years after Ian Smith declared independence were difficult, and many whites and blacks died. It was also a time of extraordinary ingenuity with the government fighting sanctions. By the time Mugabe took over, the Rhodesian pound was still worth more than the U.S. dollar, despite 16 years of sanctions. Under Mugabe, the Zimbabwe dollar is about .0005 of a US dollar and inflation is off the radar.

Mugabe, a Shona, has reverted to the tribal tyrant he always was. Like Idi Amin in Uganda, he views the country as his personal fiefdom and is extremely skilled at manipulating and buying off his supporters, who form a privileged elite. He also has the support of international corporate backers.

I believe that there will be renewed ethnic cleansing of the Matabele in the near future.

Barricaded into their houses in Harare, my family may also be forced to leave the country they grew up in again quite soon. A lot of the remaining white population are old and cannot move. It makes me very sad.


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