Kondozi: A man-made disaster

More than a decade after the chaotic and violent land grabs which paralysed the commercial farming sector and relegated families into perennial poverty, most farms are still being under-utilised and millions of potential dollars remain elusive.

BY PHYLLIS MBANJE

Kondozi Farm in Odzi is one such farm that has been reduced to a pale shadow of its former glory. Known for its successful horticulture business which racked in over $15 million, the farm now lies idle and around 5 000 employees lost their jobs when it was taken under the land reform programme.

A visit to the farm last week was a shocking experience. After many wrong turns, the NewsDay crew stumbled upon the compound where the remaining employees now stay. An eerie silence greeted the crew as it approached their houses.

The continuous chirping of the birds and crickets was the only sound that cut through the deathly stillness. Most of the houses looked dilapidated and inhabitable. Some looked like a bulldozer had whizzed through, tearing away the walls, leaving wide gaping holes.

A young woman sat outside a badly damaged house munching on a raw sweet potato. Close by a young toddler skipped about seemingly unaware of his sombre surroundings.

Abandoned trucks at Kondozi farm

The woman watched the approaching news crew suspiciously, but only relaxed after explanations about the visit were proffered.

Her story was sad and without hope, just like that of most dwellers in the compound.

“We have not been paid for three years. It has been very hard my sister. Our lives have no meaning, but what can we do?” she said as she wrung her bony hands in desperation.

Although she said she was 28, she looked much older. Her tattered dress only added to the story that speaks volumes of poverty at its worst. Why can’t she speak out?

“We are afraid of (Christopher) Mushohwe. If they catch me speaking to you, I will be victimised,” she said glancing around nervously.

Mushohwe, the Indigenisation minister is said to be the new owner, but he could not be reached for comment on his mobile phone.

The story is the same throughout the compound. They live from hand to mouth, working extra hours at nearby farms.

“We are tired of piece jobs,” an old woman said.

Derelict compound house

She displayed gnarled hands that have toiled hard in the fields. Many are clueless as to what their future will be like and have no plan or any alternative.

It emerged that only beans was being produced at the farm. At the equipment yard was a sign that read “Beverly Hills Estate”.

That was such a mockery, this Beverly Hills being the exact opposite of the United States posh neighbourhood which is home to the “who is who” of that country.

Broken down tractors, trucks and other farming equipment lay idle all over the yard. Taking pictures proved to be a daunting task as the security guard manning the gate had a no-nonsense attitude. He was polite but unyielding. We couldn’t get in, neither could we go to the farm which was manned by more aggressive security.

After a few stolen pictures we departed. On our way we met some farm labourers who repeated the sad story we had heard. They said there would be an auction soon and the equipment would be sold.

“We hear a new partner is coming to join us and we just hope it will change our circumstances,” said a one young man .

From Kondozi, the news crew proceeded to Mutare to meet some of the former employees who went down memory lane to 2004 when Kondozi fell.

“It was on the eve of Easter when they came. Our boss Edwin Moyo was not there at the time. They were armed with water cannons and submachine guns. They ordered everyone to vacate the farm,” said *Abel, a former employee.

That night lives of 5 000 workers changed forever. Initially, Arda took over, but several other top brass officials jostled to get a piece of the land.

In defending the takeover despite a High Court’s ruling, Zanu PF officials pointed out that although Moyo was majority owner of the business, a white family — the De Klerks — owned the land.

The turmoil that was created saw the late Vice-President Joseph Msika, who oversaw land redistribution in President Robert Mugabe’s Cabinet, trying to block the takeover, but all was in vain.

The horticultural company that stocked vegetable bins throughout Britain went down and over the years has continued to decline.

The looted equipment included tractors, four Scania trucks, five UD trucks, several T35 trucks and 26 motorbikes.

Several tonnes of fertilizers and chemicals disappeared.

Former owner Moyo says he wants to forget Kondozi. He has since started a new horticulture venture in Mashonaland East province and is running a company named Rolex Fresh exports which has secured European markets for its produce.

Underutilised land at Kondozi farm

“I have moved on and do not want to dwell on the past. I lost too much, but am grateful it taught me some lessons. It gave me resolve to do more,” he said.

Moyo said if he had not gone through the experiences he would not have become the person he is today.

“I have become more aggressive in international markets and I have sole rights from Australians to grow blue berries and stone fruits (peaches and nectarines),” he said.

He is now focussing on the high value crops. He has seemingly exorcised his past ghosts and is eager to conquer new markets.

“In Mozambique I have a joint venture with West Falia and we produce avocados and litches for the European market,” he explains.

Does he have any regrets?

“The land reform was about giving land to people and whoever got Kondozi deserved it,” he said dismissively.

He was, however, sorry about the 5 000 workers who lost their means of livelihood.

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