Taking Advantage

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Injustice found in just a small area of Africa.

Submitted: November 03, 2019

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Submitted: November 03, 2019

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Mugabe died recently and it’s fair to say the notion of good riddance passed through a lot of minds. On the other hand there’ll be a number of Zimbabweans who will remember him as a hero because he ousted many of the colonial farmers to free up land for his own people. Sure his methods were dire, there was murder, cronyism, violence, corruption and he brought tough times to the whole country, but those things become past history and his oppression will be remembered as simply replacing another oppression.

I discussed this sort of thing many times, relating to Tanzania’s situation with my old colleague and friend, who lived through the transition from British rule to Uhuru, freedom, led by the Father of the Nation, Julius Nyerere. Under British colonialism, the country was, from the British point of view, running efficiently but once independence arrived, there was a decline and it soon became the third poorest country in the world. I asked my mate if independence was ever regretted… There was no regret, the country and its people had freedom, which was far more important to them than facing the challenges of being the third poorest country in the world. I witnessed some of those challenges, and came to understand something about freedom.

We regularly travelled along a well-used track to reach the village of Valeska. The only other route available was through Kikatiti, which didn’t suit many people on foot because the journey was lengthened by heading off in the wrong direction. The track followed an irrigation channel, which extending way beyond the village, further than we travelled, so I never saw the end. At the start of the track there was a coffee plantation. It was a mature plantation, well-managed and owned by an expat southern European. There was a collection of small, tidy houses for his African workers to live in. They were single-roomed, clay-brick, white-painted and fairly austere-looking, but there didn’t seem to be many workers living in them, I think most of them were empty.

Further along there was a sisal plantation and factory under Indian ownership, where there were poor quality, single-roomed wooden huts for workers and their families. Within the plantation was a primary school, obviously not exclusively for plantation workers’ kids, because we often ferried some kids from outside the plantation. During our time there, sisal went out of fashion because nylon rope gradually took its place and so the factory wound down. As this process was happening the expat coffee plantation owner’s son must have married, and he built a new house and planted his own coffee plantation on land he acquired between his father’s plantation and the sisal plantation.

During this time there was a severe drought, especially in the rainshadow area of Mt. Meru, beyond Ngarenanyuki. People were really suffering and having to buy in water but had nothing much to pay for it. The expat’s young son, who was establishing his coffee plantation, obviously didn’t want dust from the track wafting into their new house, so he used a tanker-trailer, towed behind his tractor to keep the track dust-free. Meantime everyone around him were desperate for water. The young fellow may well have been unaware of the crisis because he had a constant supply on hand, but the injustice of it gave me cause to think. While all this was happening, the only place in the region where there was green grass, lush green lawn-grass, was surrounding the AICC building, where the United Nations-run Rwanda trials were being held – that also gave me cause to think.

Anyway, the sisal plantation was sold to a partnership of the young coffee-growing expat and an expat southern African. The school was given notice it had to move, and soon there were guards posted where the track entered the old sisal plantation – both ends. We passed through with no hassles, although I had to stop to be assessed, but the local village people began to experience difficulty. After a time, fences and gates went up and while we were still allowed through, the village people were barred. Of course the village people took umbrage, so much so that some guards were killed. The men were not locals and were only doing their job, but still, at the end of the day, the village people had lost their access. The area is now a flash polo club.

Further down the track was a well-managed cropping and dairy farm owned by an expat living in Somalia. This farm had dilapidated and unused accommodation, redundant because the workers had long gone. Cotton had once been farmed there, but the enterprise had been abandoned after a price collapse. A new manager arrived who we met during our travels and I thought he might be good for the farm because he came from Down Under. But he turned out to be not so good. He blocked off the irrigation cannel expecting to use all the water for the farm and bugger the village people further down the line! There was the expected uproar, and the matter was eventually resolved through a group of village leaders giving him the appropriate warnings.

During our occasional visits to the east coast of Zanzibar, we noticed beachfront properties, traditional foraging grounds for the local village people, were being snapped up by Italians. They began building expensive beachfront accommodation for tourists, mainly Italian, and forced the locals from the beaches and their homes. It’s the old story, if you can pay enough, you can get what you want.

In the scheme of things these are minor compared with what has gone before during colonialisation, but for the people concerned, they were a huge deals and consumed their world. When those sorts of things happen, what’s the expected reaction? No wonder there are angry people out there! Which is why, in the end, Mugabe will be viewed differently.


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