So what happened to the warthogs and the monkeys we used to see driving on the 50-km stretch between Chivhu and Mvuma?
From the Editor’s Desk with Nevanji Madanhire
The little animals are not great game; not comparable to the Big Five which tourists from around the world die to watch and hunt, but they were part of the rhythm of the once joyful drive from the capital Harare to Masvingo.
It was memorable to watch the hogs dart from the side of the road into the dry savannah grass, their tuft-ended tails erect and waving in the wind like flags. Their springy run was a marvel to watch; they seemed to be a series of quick leaps and bounds. Children enjoyed seeing the little ugly pigs.
The monkeys too, playful as ever as they fought for the food motorists threw out their windows, were good entertainment for travellers. Most importantly, their mere presence reminded everyone who cared about the beauty of our land and the different animals that thrived on it.
If one cared to look farther into the distances, one could see big herds of Kudu feeding on the dry pasture and groups of impala engaged in another endless race, their white bums bobbing up and down as they ran to safety; now and then, a rare eland.
In the wet season the grass grew higher than the average man, it was green and full of life. In the dry season it changed to a golden colour which merged seamless with the colour of most of the animals that used it as food and camouflage.
The various trees were huge with girths as wide as drums, meaning they were as old as perhaps a hundred years. They gave the land a permanence that reassured the observer of the timelessness of nature.
No more! The area has been invaded by humanity. The trees have been cut down for firewood and sold to city dwellers. Younger trees have been chopped and used as building materials. Nondescript structures have sprouted along the road. The grass has been burnt in numerous veld fires. The little warthogs have been hunted down and eaten. The monkeys too; they have been pushed out of their habitat or perhaps eaten too.
The land has become desolate and as the rain season approaches one fears the worst; because of the veld fires and the unmonitored tilling, the rain will just sweep everything away and in a few more seasons the place will be desert.
It doesn’t take the expert eye of an agriculturalist to see that the soil in this area is not for the cultivation of crops. Up until 2000, the land had been left untouched and worked as a conservancy or a ranch in which beef cattle were reared. Wild animals were left to roam and were harvested properly for game meat. The biltong shop just outside Mvuma was a must-stop-over as motorists enjoyed the sun-dried meat and bought curios sold therein as mementoes.
Herds of cattle were hardly seen grazing along the roads; now the fencing has been pulled out and used to trap wild animals. Beasts graze right on the side of the road and criss-cross the tarmac at will, posing a great danger to motorists. It is inevitable that a major traffic accident is going to happen sooner rather than later because of the free-moving animals. It must be remembered this is the same stretch of road where top golfer Mark Cayeux nearly lost his life in a horror crush that killed a police officer. The cattle are big and unpredictable; they have a tendency to panic and run across the road at the slightest provocation.
If what has happened to this piece of land is what has happened to all newly-resettled areas, then it is a tragedy of unprecedented proportions. It is true that nearly a hundred years of colonialism had denied millions of indigenous Zimbabweans places they could call home. Hundreds of thousands had resigned to their fate and lived crammed in barren places in areas where they could not eke out a living. The land reform programme therefore came as a godsend; families rushed to grab land, any piece of land, and attempted to turn it into a home. In many cases they were encouraged to settle randomly by politicians who wished to secure their vote. Indeed the results of the just-ended harmonised elections show that as a vote pool, the resettlement areas were a game changer.
But at what cost to the environment?
Now that the elections are over and Zanu PF has been given such an overwhelming mandate to govern for a long time to come — it is unimaginable that Zanu PF will be ousted from power in the next 20 years or more — it may be time to clean up the land reform process.
The beginning has got to be land husbandry; people must be taught how to be farmers, how to grow crops and how to raise animals. They must be taught to understand the dynamic relationship between humans, the land and the animals they rear and those that roam the wild.
At the risk of being labelled a political malefactor, I would like to urge everyone who cares to take another look at the Land Husbandry Act of 1951. I must point out that it was poorly implemented and led to much disgruntlement among indigenous people and was a huge catalyst to the 1970s liberation struggle.
The rationale behind it was, however, noble namely, to arrest the deterioration of areas allocated to indigenous people which, according to historians, had reached alarming proportion.
The purposes of the Land Husbandry Act, were to regulate conservation measures and ensure good farming practices; relate the stocking of each area to its carrying capacity; allocate grazing rights to individuals; redistribute arable land into compact and economic units and to register each individual’s holding of land.
The government should revisit this Act with a view to fine-tuning it and implementing it in such a way that new farmers see it as the logical thing to do without resuscitating the bad memories of the 1950s. Without a coherent land management policy, our country is doomed to desertification, a development which will negate the whole rationale of the land reform programme.