Monday, 20 September 2010

Lonely Sentinels - Cathy Buckle

My son was 8 years old when we were forced off our Marondera farm by war
veterans and Zanu PF youths in September 2000. Richard does not remember
those very traumatic months that we lived alongside the men who had
invaded our farm. Men who were far too young to have been veterans of
war; youths who were almost always drunk, drugged, abusive and
threatening. Camped in a paddock within sight of our house, a rabble took
over our lives, claimed the farm field by field, destroyed our business,
livelihood and pension and finally chased us out of our home. For a long
time I have been very glad that Richard does not remember that
frightening, horrible time but that all changed this week when I phoned
him one morning. Richie said he couldn't talk just then because he
was on his way to help a friend who was being evicted from his farm and
had been given until 3 that afternoon to get out.

My heart was in my mouth at the thought of another family going through
the devastating anguish of being forced out of their home.

With just hours in which to pack and move a home and business of a
lifetime, I knew that this Mother and her son would need all the help
they could get. Before long, like Richard, I was rushing to help and it
took me back in time to that bad place that holds only fear and painful
memories. Just a few kilometres out of Marondera town, down a bumpy,
winding, dust road through the most magnificent Msasa woodland adorned in
glorious spring leaves, I followed my son's vehicle. We travelled
for a dozen kilometres and saw no one and nothing: no ploughed fields, no
sheep or cattle, no crops or greenhouses. A line of fence posts caught my
eye: standing in a perfectly straight line they had once been a paddock
or a boundary but the wire was all gone and the poles stood as lonely
sentinels watching over these deserted, seized farms.

Arriving at the farm of my son's friend, the hairs on the back of
my neck stood up as soon as I stepped out of my vehicle. Sitting on
stumps and broken plastic chairs under a covered carport a few metres
from the house were the land invaders. A tatty rabble they were. Half a
dozen of them, mostly youngsters and openly drinking at 11 in the
morning; one swigging from a $4 bottle of Vladinoff Vodka, others
drinking beer out of cut off plastic bottles. One was drumming and they
were singing crude versions of Chimurenga songs whose lyrics had been
changed to: They are coming to move you out. By 3 this afternoon this
will be our house. We are happy you are going. We are getting our land. I
recognized one of the men, a scruffy layabout with dreadlocks who hangs
around car parks. And these were to be our farmers, I thought with
contempt. I did not meet their eyes or respond to their begging calls for

I hugged the woman who was losing her home today but we did not talk,
there are no words. All day we worked removing curtains and pictures,
emptying drawers and cupboards, loading our vehicles with another
destroyed life. Eight years ago half this farm was given to the Zimbabwe
government but bit by bit they took more and now this bunch outside
wanted it all. Wearing broken green plastic flip flops and woolly hats
even in the 25 degree heat, they were determined they were going to have
this house, and they were going to have it today.

The Police did not come, would not come, because this, they said, was
political, not criminal. As 3pm came and went, tempers flared and the
invaders moved into the garden and then some even into the living room.
The farmer's dogs, chained under a shady tree whined and whimpered
as they couldn't protect their owners. A beautiful brown and white
cat lay on the floor in the bedroom surrounded by boxes, piles,
suitcases, coat hangers.

As the shadows lengthened and with the red setting sun in our eyes I
followed my son's vehicle away from his friends farm for the last
time. The dust was thick and choking and I felt tears burning my eyes.
How can this be? 10 years after it happened to us, it is still going on.
Nothing has changed; no attempt to stop the destruction of agriculture;
no response from the Police; no respect for Title Deeds, property rights
or even a family's private home.

Who in their right mind would dream of investing in Zimbabwe when a bunch
of arbitrary drunken thugs can get away with something like this because
it is political. Is this Zanu PF politics or Unity Government politics?
Until next time, thanks for reading, love Cathy.

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