Peta Thornycroft, IOL (Cape Town), May 13, 2007
Zimbabwe’s minister of the environment, Francis Nhema, controversially elected on Friday to head the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, seized a productive farm that has now become a virtual desert.
The 1 000ha farm, Nyamanda, in the Karoi district about 200km north of Harare, used to produce 100ha of maize, 100ha of tobacco and supported a top-class animal husbandry unit of beef cattle, pigs and sheep.
Farmer Chris Shepherd believes he still owns the farm, as he has not been paid for his confiscated property, along with 90 percent of white farmers evicted during Zimbabwe’s farm-seizure campaign.
He flew low over Nyamanda a few weeks ago to check on the highly developed land, which had supported his own family and more than 250 permanent workers and their families and another 250 contract workers during the season.
“There was about 30ha of appalling maize which will produce nothing,” he said this week. “It hasn’t been irrigated. Nhema rents out some of my land to a couple of white farmers still in the district.
“There is nothing else. The place looks dreadful. Two of the tobacco barns which burned down after Nhema moved in have not been rebuilt. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the destruction.
“Within two years of leaving in 2002, at least 30 percent of male workers on the farm had died [from illness and malnutrition] and only about 10 of them are still there. The workers on our old farms have suffered terribly.”
Many of the farm workers taken on by Mugabe’s cronies regularly report to the General, Agricultural and Plantation Workers of Zimbabwe that they are grossly underpaid by their new employers.
“You must speak to my farm manager about anything related to the farm,” Nhema said in New York. He denied that he had 1 067ha. “I didn’t know that. I don’t own that much land.”
When Shepherd and his wife Eleanor were violently evicted from their home in 2002, the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals tried to rescue the livestock.
“It took ZNSPCA several days to negotiate their way onto the farm. There were more than 400 pigs. They had not been watered for a week and were killing each other. It was too terrible,” he said.
Nhema was narrowly voted into the chair of the UN commission this week. The body is responsible for promoting economic progress and environmental protection. He was elected despite opposition from human rights organisations, the United States and European nations.
Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s environment minister, said the European Union had imposed travel sanctions, among other penalties, on officials in President Robert Mugabe’s government. As a result he said that it would be impossible for the EU environmental authorities to have contact with Nhema. Germany currently holds the presidency of the EU.
A jubilant Boniface Chidyausiku, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the UN, told the BBC after the vote secured Nhema’s position: “What has sustainable development to do with human rights? The post rotates among regions and Africa nominated Nhema as chairman of the commission.” He was elected by 26 votes to 21 with three abstentions.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Nhema said: “I think it’s not time to point fingers, there is never a perfect method, it’s always a method which is appropriate to each country. So it’s important not only to look at Zimbabwe, but to look at each other and see what we can learn.”
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which monitors food security in sub-Saharan Africa, issued an alert this week that Zimbabwe had produced less than half the maize it needs to feed the population.
Until President Robert Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms in 2000, which produced 40 percent of Zimbabwe’s foreign earnings, Zimbabwe was a net exporter of food. But, with inflation at 2 200 percent, Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector is on its knees. The catastrophe on the farm Nhema took is replicated throughout about 20 million hectares of the old commercial farming areas.
Under Nhema, poaching in Zimbabwe has reached unprecedented levels and scores of conservancies have collapsed.