The Hughes family had bought Bains Hope Farm in 1932 and, over the next three generations, had developed it into one of the finest dairy farms in Zimbabwe. In 2003 they were evicted from the property by the government.
At first the farm was given to A1 settlers who practised subsistence agriculture and then, at a later point, it was re-allocated to an A2 or commercial farmer – Mr Bayisa. A tug-of-war developed – the A1 settlers did not want to abandon the plots they had just planted whilst Mr Bayisa needed grazing for his dairy herd. As the arguments and intimidation continued the cattle got weaker and weaker.
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“Mr Bayisa was a dairy farmer with 15 years experience and already had a smallholding but he had been given an ‘offer letter’ from the Zimbabwe government and began to move his cattle on to Bains Hope Farm in April 2003. Offer Letters were about as official as it came and were literally letters which named an acquired farm and the prospective new farmer the government of Zimbabwe was offering it to. Offer Letters were of course much sought after and many forgeries emerged which resulted in a deepening of the chaos on the ground.
On Bains Hope the A1 settlers who had planted little squares of maize and beans and vegetables on their plots could not protect their crops from the dairy cows but were not prepared to move. Mr Bayisa, with his Offer Letter from the government and 260 Holstein dairy cows said he was not moving either as the property was allocated to him.
It was a shambles that had become the norm on hundreds of commercial farms around the country. Clashes and chaos were inevitable and for two months the fight for occupation of Bains Hope continued. The A1 settlers repeatedly confined Mr Bayisa’s dairy cows to small paddocks and refused to allow the animals to graze on the farm. Mr Bayisa brought his cattle workers to live on the property but that made no difference to the situation – the workers were intimidated, threatened with violence and stopped from doing their work at every turn by the A1 settlers. In total, 260 Holstein cows were stuck in the middle of a bitter dispute and were losing weight and condition dramatically.
As the stalemate continued and there was no solution in sight, Mr Bayisa had no choice but to save his cows. By June the grass was dry and brown, it was winter and the dairy cows that were strong enough were walked off Bains Hope and back to Mr Bayisa’s smallholding, eight kilometres away in Ruwa. The cows not physically capable of the walk were moved by truck and it was during the second trip that Meryl became involved in the affair. Meryl followed the truck to Mr Bayisa’s 12-hectare plot in Ruwa and she found a dire situation there too:
‘The remainder of the herd were confined in a very small area and being fed on cauliflower and broccoli. Mrs Bayisa explained that her husband’s truck was going into Harare twice a day to pick up vegetables that were too old to be sold in shops. Two of the dairy cows had already collapsed and had been “down” for several days. I suggested that they be destroyed as in our experience once a cow has gone down it is almost impossible to get it up again. The weight of its body puts enormous pressure on the various organs and it soon develops pressure sores.’
Next Wednesday: Innocent Victims: Extract 4 (of 4)
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