By some accounts, since Zimbabwe’s terror-inducing Robert Mugabe came to power more than thirty years ago, up to 480,000 people have lost their lives. Of those not killed outright or starved to death, tens of thousands of people have had their property stolen. Many were beaten, raped, and left for dead. As these outrages were occurring, the nation’s economy was devastated following Mugabe’s politically-motivated “land reforms” of 2000 and the years thereafter which saw a one-time economic bright spot in Africa reduced to ruins. And in all this violation of human rights the New York Times sees a “golden lining.”
How could there be a “golden lining” in all this murder–even genocide–and destruction? (The above image is from the destruction of a family home in 2009.) Well, apparently out of the ashes of a country, the genocide of hundreds of thousands, and the human rights violations of millions more, the fact that a few thousand small farmers have risen up to some modest success raising tobacco is somehow a great triumph.
In a Friday, July 20 piece, Lydia Polgreen is all excited over this year’s tobacco crop haul of 330 million pounds of the golden leaf (hence the “golden” lining).
Of course, this is down from the 522 million pounds that was realized in the year 2000, but it’s better than nothing, one supposes. The fact that those farmers may have been diverted from food production to cash crop farming needed by the kleptocratic government to raise scarce foreign currency is one upon which that the Times does not care to dwell.
Polgreen goes on to laud all the progress that this handful of black small farmers have had this year and that success, she and other Mugabe apologists think, might signal that Mugabe’s devastating “land reforms” might be a howling success. But even her own announcement of success is prefaced by the horrors:
Before Zimbabwe’s government began the violent and chaotic seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, fewer than 2,000 farmers were growing tobacco, the country’s most lucrative crop, and most were white. Today, 60,000 farmers grow tobacco here, the vast majority of them black and many of them working small plots that were allotted to them in the land upheavals. Most had no tobacco farming experience yet managed to produce a hefty crop, rebounding from a low of 105 million pounds in 2008 to more than 330 million pounds this year.
The success of these small-scale farmers has led some experts to reassess the legacy of Zimbabwe’s forced land redistribution, even as they condemn its violence and destruction.
Wow. Seriously? Polgreen careens from “violent and chaotic” to the “success of small-scale farmers” as if the former was just a bump in the road for the latter!
This brief interim that Polgreen dismisses so easily, though, wasn’t some necessary incident that led to prosperity. The fact that a handful of black farmers are finally learning how to farm by hit-and-miss tactics, and finally making some profits from their labors, cannot transcend evils that brought them to this accidental success nor does it detract from the horrors that still embroils Zimbabwe in misery.
Let’s go over a bit of what went on before we got to tobacco trading story the Times is so excited about. Here is R W Johnson, writing at Politicsweb:
At one farm after another the farmworkers were corralled – grannies and babies too – into a farm building were they were ceaselessly beaten as they were made to sing Zanu-PF songs. This would go on for days on end and often the workers would be made to beat one another. Sometimes they were tortured with red hot metal or burning plastic dripped onto naked flesh, sometimes workers would be killed in front of the others to provide an example.
It was a hell which sometimes went on for weeks and of which the great continuous theme was that they must never again, upon pain of torture and death, go against the will of Zanu-PF. No white farmer or his family that I ever spoke to doubted that their own ordeal was as nothing compared with what their workers were put through.
At the end of this these workers and their families, often in an emaciated and traumatized state, were simply cast loose upon the roadside verges. The new owners of the farms – usually Zanu-PF high-ups – seldom wanted to farm properly and just treated their new properties as holiday homes where they parked their wives while enjoying their mistresses in town.
So there were few jobs for farmworkers and when they existed they quickly found that they were expected to work twice as hard for a fraction of the pay they had enjoyed in the past. Later, when I tried to ascertain what had happened to this group – a whole 20% of the Zimbabwe population – it was very difficult to understand their plight fully. Their death rate had been extraordinarily high – they were suddenly deprived of food, all their support services and of any idea what to do.
Hardly a bump in the road to modern day success, is it?
Of course, the other glaring inconsistency is in the tobacco itself. The Times has spent decades lambasting anyone that makes a living from the “golden leaf.” Tobacco and the industries that make their livelihoods from it are the bane of existence, we are told. Yet here the Times is all excited over the success of tobacco farmers–as long as they are on the other side of the world, and not in Kentucky or North Carolina!
In any case, the New York Times seems disposed to ignore the “hell” that Mugabe has create –a hell that is not only not over but which seems to have no end in sight–in order to celebrate the success of a few black farmers.
Why is this brutality so incidental to the New York Times? One wonders what the Times is really celebrating.