-By Warner Todd Huston
By some accounts, since the coming to power of Zimbabwe’s terror-inducing Robert Mugabe, up to 480,000 people have lost their lives. Of those not killed outright or starved to death, tens of thousands of people had their property stolen and their livelihoods ended, they were beaten, raped, and left for dead. As these outrages were occurring the nation’s economy was devastated, 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? 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 success.
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.
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 genocidal “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 is like the famous saying, “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”
This brief interim that Polgreen dismisses so easily, though, wasn’t some necessary incident that led to prosperity. The fact that some tiny handful of black farmers are after 5 years and more finally learning how to farm by hit and miss tactics and finally making some profits from their labors is nothing that outshines the evils that brought them to this accidental success nor does it obviate from the horrors that still embroils Zimbabwe in misery.
Let’s go over a bit of what went on before we got to the tobacco trading story the Times is so excited about.
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?
Another odd part of Polgreen’s piece appears early. In the second paragraph, Polgreen plays the exultation of a Zimbabwean that the tobacco trading floors are “for everybody” since the white farmers were all murdered, beaten and had their land stolen from them and given to Mugabe’s political buddies. Yet, Polgreen also notes that every single face at the trading place was that of a black person. Apparently the trading floor isn’t “for everybody.”
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!
In any case, the New York Times seems disposed to ignore the “hell” that Mugabe has created — a hell that is not only not over but of which seems to have no end in sight — in order to celebrate the success of a few black farmers. Why is this genocide so incidental to the New York Times? One wonders what the Times is really celebrating?