Joe Hanlon

"Successful white farms are a myth"

Zimbabwe's land reform. Tens of thousands of violent Mugabe-supporters invaded prosperous white farms, wrecked them and reduced the country to ruins. Not true, says 'Zimbabwe takes back its land', a new book by Joe Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart. The ZAM Chronicle Q & A with Joe Hanlon

You say the invaders weren't sent by Mugabe?

Mugabe didn't support land reform at first. He decided to grab back control later. Some of the new farmers were cronies, the vast majority was not.

Aren't you condoning racial victimization?

Racial victimization started much earlier. 100.000 black farmers were forcibly removed by colonialists in the 40's. Many of the later land invaders were their children.

But the white farmers produced lots of food?

That the white farms were so successful is a myth. They left large parts of the land untended and Zimbabwe was importing food at times even then.

We hear that small farms are not as good as large, commercial farms.

When we say 'small', we don't mean subsistence farmers. The new 'small' farmers produce for the market. Four million people now make a living that way, as opposed to 1 million before. It's a way out of poverty.

What is going to happen to the whites?

Many are becoming suppliers and experts. They understand that land reform was long overdue. It's only those who refuse to engage who are left behind.

Shouldn't they get compensation?

If we go that way, the black farmers who were removed without compensation in the 40's should come first.

Can the new black farmers really farm?

It takes 20 years to become a successful farmer. White farmers received massive subsidies, assistance, training. The new farmers are getting by without help. Nevertheless, production levels are already up to 1990's levels again.

In South Africa, land reform seems to be failing miserably.

In SA people were removed from the land a century ago. You can't give land to a non-farming community and tell them 'go farm'. You need to put in the assistance.

Critics have said your research is biased.

The World Bank has now come out with statistics very similar to ours. You can see the increase in productive land use in Zimbabwe since the invasions even on Google Earth.

And that you look over the human rights abuses.

We have a whole chapter on human rights. But this is a book about land reform. All we do is challenge some stereotypes, such as that the white farms were so successful and that the Zimbabwean economy is now in ruins. Some of the critics may be reluctant to let go of the stereotypes.

This interview was conducted by Evelyn Groenink, ZAM Chronicle’s investigations editor.