Posted by: Alex MacGregor | March 14, 2010

Zimbabwe’s Rural Side

We had a couple extra days before we had to go to Victoria Falls, so we decided to head to the Eastern Highlands using local transport. After six hours on the local bus–including a ridiculous hour-long delay in which the bus driver was arrested for an unpaid fine–we were in the pleasant city of Mutare.

There’s not much to do other than soak up the landscape and nice weather, talk to people around town, and eat delicious fruit. (We were warned by townspeople, including the tourism office, not to go to the scenic overlook of the city for fear of safety, so our one activity was cancelled.)

But there’s another fascinating thing about this part of the country, beyond the wonderful landscape. This area has been a major focus of the government’s land reform program. Unlike in Harare, where the government is almost universally despised, a number of the rural people are beneficiaries of the controversial land resettlement policy, leading to a polarization of political viewpoints. All of the people we talked to were opposition MDC supporters, but the signs of ZANU-PF government support were there in the huts next to small plots of farmland, scattered across the countryside, and ZANU-PF labelled vehicles.

Prior to 2000, most of the farmland in this highly fertile region was owned by white and black farmowners who had purchased their farms after independence in 1980. As Robert Mugabe feared he was losing his grip on the country, he decided to pursue a policy in which veterans of the 1979 war of independence were entitled to take farmland from themselves from the “foreign” whites. Eventually, black farmowners were viewed as a threat too, and non-war veterans joined in the land invasions. The process quickly lost its ideological foundation and become mired in cronyism.

Predictably, when the people with no farming skills booted the experienced farmers off their land, output collapsed and shortages developed. Many of the maize fields we saw looked terrible; some plots were just left to weeds. Some of the poor crops can be due to the poor rains this year, but the knee high corn was far worse than anything we saw in neighboring countries. The harvest is about a month away.

As agricultural output collapsed due to farm invasions, and Zimbabwe’s food exports turned into food imports the government had to make up for lost foreign exchange. The solution was to simply print money, leading to the hyperinflation with which Zimbabwe has become synonymous.

Prior to coming to Zimbabwe, Caroline and I read a book about a white farming family named the Rogers who sold their farmland and started a backpacker’s hostel called Drifters. The book outlined all the efforts the place had to go through to remain afloat–long gone were the backpackers that originally fueled the business, of course–and the efforts the place had to go through to avoid being invaded, as it was technically considered a farm. For those interested, the book is called The Last Resort: A Memior of Zimbabwe, and it provides and excellent history of Zimbabwe’s problems as well as a fascinating account of white farmers trying everything to keep their land.

We decided to visit Drifters.

We were extremely lucky to have tea with the Rogers, and enjoyed the surreal experience of being able to ask them about the story we had just read so much about.

We also went hiking in the mountains above their farm and enjoyed some excellent views.

The next day, it was time to head back to Harare and make our way over to Victoria Falls. We waited on the road for a while, and then caught a bus headed to Harare’s Mbare Bus Terminal.

After a much less eventful–but extremely bumpy–ride back to Harare, we made our way into the Mbare terminal, which is a mindblowingly huge, dirty, and chaotic place.

I was only able to get this one picture. Sorry it’s so blurry.

The terminal is beyond description. It’s easily the biggest, dirtiest, most confusing bus terminal I’ve ever seen. We had to walk 500 meters or so to get from our bus to a taxi, trudging down alleys and through markets along the way. All we wanted was a taxi or minibus to the city center–something that would seem easy to find–but we needed to hire a guide to help us. Normally, I do everything in my power to avoid hiring a guide in an urban setting, but in this place it was a dollar very well spent!

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Responses

  1. hi caroline & alex! the pics of the view from the mountains above the drifters farm are so impossibly pretty!! i can feel my eyes wanting to water, can’t imagine what that must have been like IRL


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