Thursday, 13 January 2011

Zimbabwe "slashing" food crops in urban areas

I haven't made many reports on my home town, Harare, because my reporting can hardly be dispassionate: I am upset about the destruction of the economy and subjugation of Zimbabwean people by the ruling elite personified in Robert Mugabe. But this news snippet ("Senior council employees orders slashing of maize", as reported in The Zimbabwean) serves to exemplify all that is hideous in the state of Zimbabwe.

To outsiders, it might be difficult to understand what "slashing of maize" is. But residents of Zimbabwe know this means the destruction of illegal maize crops in the urban areas. Workers are dispatched by the city council, armed with long slashing knives, to "slash" (cut down) maize crops that have been planted by poor people on every bit of unused land in the city. The practice was started in colonial times to keep cities neat and to prevent riverbank cultivation which might lead to erosion. It's done at this time of year when the crops are just reaching maturity and almost ready to harvest. Maize (also known as corn) is the staple food of Zimbabwe, having replaced traditional millet. It is ground up and cooked to make sadza, a porridge that is eaten with tomato and rape relish.

In 2000, militias loyal to Mugabe invaded commercial farms and food production fell. Emergency food aid was sent to Zimbabwe, but many went hungry. Poor people started planting maize in the cities, and the city councils didn't order the crops to be slashed, since it was a matter for survival for poor city folks. But Mugabe's men see the cities as centres of resistance to their rule, and used bulldozers to destroy urban dwellings. Many people were forced into hidden lives in wild spaces, eating what they could grow. In 2005, I saw the pitiful sight of people living in storm-water drains, making clothes and shoes from discarded plastic bags. They needed to remain hidden from sight, lest they got picked up as vagrants and taken to rural camps for re-education, a violent process out of sight of western media.

So the news that the crops are being slashed in Harare means to me that an assault is being made on the last hiding places of Mugabe's victims.

This struggle is far from simple. Mugabe's men should not be seen as mindless thugs: they started out fighting for their idea of the unspoiled Zimbabwe they imagine their ancestors lived in.  In this sense they were once fundamentalist visionaries, fighting colonialism and global capitalism. But like most fanatics, they seem to be creating a living hell in their fanatic zeal, and they have become corrupt.

I wonder what will become of the families who are depending on the maize crops planted in the urban areas. Many of these people have nowhere to go: rural Zimbabwe is populated by traditional villagers with established clan relationships represented by totems, and dominated by links to the ruling party. The poor city dwellers are referred to as "trash" by the ruling elite, and they often don't have connections with the countryside - they may have migrated from Malawi decades ago, or lost their ties with the countryside for many other reasons. With western media and aid agencies being chased from the rural areas it is very hard to know what hardships are being faced by these disenfranchised people. Ordinary people do not resent the maize planted on every unused scrap of land in the cities. It is an increasingly psychopathic ruling elite that has ordered the maize to be slashed.

Senior council employees orders slashing of maize


  1. My friend, who lives in Harare, reports that the maize slashing never got so far as the northern suburbs where lives, because the unfortunate workers who had been slashing he maize were arrested soon after starting work. So his maize crop was alright.

    Seems the forces of democracy still have some life in them, then? Or maybe it's simply that Zanu is just as much as planting food for survival as the MDC is.

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