At the Easter break, I took myself to a quiet, peaceful place mainly to thoroughly rest my mind before plunging myself back into the chaos of my daily modern life. Between taking long walks, sleeping long hours and watching television, I tried so hard to read a book my new landlady gave to me before she skipped the country, probably to never return. The book is titled Jambanja, and I was excited to read it for two reasons: it was written by one ‘white farmer’ named Eric Harrison who lived through the experience of the chaotic state sanctioned farm invasions labelled ‘land reform’. I always find first-person accounts richly fulfilling, and I had no doubt this novel would give me a new perspective on the experiences of farmers in those trying times. The second reason I was excited to read this book was, it had been a long time since I read a novel, and this particular book has a beautiful cover that promised an interesting read. The book also allegedly never circulated widely in the country, following some kind of a ‘quiet’ ban imposed on it. That added to the excitement.
Reading that book was a mission and to say I was disappointed is an understatement. For the most part, the book inconsequentially dwells on the history and background of the author’s childhood, how he went into some kind of forced military training similar to what they call youth service now, how he went into farming etc. It was a painfully long and disjointed first four chapters. Only at chapter 5 do you start seeing the advancement of the farm invasions by war vets and progressively, how each of the white farmers was affected and dealt with this new order. Chapter 5 is immediately preceded by Harrison’s three probably most hard-hitting words in the entire novel; Jambanja had begun. Jambanja is a shona word describing fighting, terror and chaos. The word – at the peak of the farm invasions – became the most apt though colloquial description of what was going down during the violent and disorderly fast track land reform and devastation of that era.
The bottom line is; I flipped over many pages simply because they were boring, irrelevant or something closer to history book text than novel material. However, all was not lost. I was caught by one particular statement by the author in chapter 5 where he is asking himself: What makes this Government think it can make farmers out of people not necessarily cut out for the job at the expense of people with years and years of experience? It can only have one result…failure!
Harrison also observes – a few paragraphs earlier, that in a way, it was understandable for invaders to behave the way they were doing. He asks; who in their right mind, would turn down an offer to become a ‘rich’ man, especially when there was no cost involved at all?
Harrison might not be the greatest writer in the world (in my books), but I have recently found myself echoing his sentiments, especially in view of this new drive called economic empowerment and indigenization. Not particularly interested in joining the fray in contributing my two cents to the raging debate on this issue, I feel I must however point out the folly of what the indigenization drive is trying to achieve in principle. In a country where the majority of ordinary folk earn nothing or something far below the poverty datum line, and are struggling just to keep body and soul together; where will they get money to purchase shares? And why is it necessary for so-called foreign companies to first ‘cede’ a percentage of their shares before those seeking to empower themselves can do so? I mean, the Zimbabwe Stock Market is awash with shares, and companies and investors are desperate for capital to stimulate their operations. Why cant empowerment seekers simply purchase existing shares or better yet, start their own companies if they have the capital? Is this not another case of a cruel few seeking to become instantly rich by simply usurping flourishing and already established businesses?
The RBZ governor Gono, even though in his own ways he also presided over the chaotic land reform programme – has also seen the potential dangers of allowing a chaotic takeover and ‘tearing apart of the small cake that is in place’. He argued recently in a longish Fingaz article, though normatively, that ‘there should not be and will not be farm-type Jambanja…we are all witnesses to what can inadvertently happen when that is allowed…and we cannot be a people who do not learn from yesterday’s implementation shortcomings.” Right on guv, but I reckon Kasukuwere et al were probably on Mars when all this happened.
My biggest concern is, with the generous supply of dimwits running this country into the ground we seem to be going backwards every day. Already, we have started feeling the effects of carelessly conceived regulations and what that’s doing to our investments. But now that they have decided to start consultations, albeit after passing the indigenization act, we will just wait and see. Otherwise this feels so much like dejavu, and in Harrison’s line of thinking, Jambanja might be here once more.