We meet Coen and Veerle Schippers in their small appartment in the medieval Dutch town of Amersfoort. They live on a meagre income. A few years ago they were the owners of an extensive farm in Zimbabwe, worth over $ 1.000.000. Someone else has taken their farm.
When we think of Zimbawe and farmers that have had their farms taken we usually think of British farmers. The former colonial masters exist in a difficult relationship with the new masters since 1980, under the leadership of Uncle Bob. But there were and are also Dutch farmers living and working and farming in the former breadbasket of southern Africa.
Coen and Veerle lost their precious farm. The journalist Marnix de Bruyne (see also his boek “Het land van Soekmekaar”, 2010) met Coen and Veerele, he visited them in The Netherlands. He paid a visit to their former farm in Zim. He not only met this couple, he met other (former) Dutch people as well. Some are still farming, some have lost their farm, some have taken up another occupation, some have moved to another country.
Do not expect in this book a series of interviews with Dutch farmers. This book is something different and much more. De Bruyne has set the position of the Dutch farmers in a wider context. He did research in archives, he did his fair bit of oral history. He talked with new farmers on old farms and with new politicians in Zimbabwe.
A few bits and pieces from this book:
A number of farmers had a background in the former Dutch colony of the East Indies. They were born there, or their parents had lived there and farmed there. They were familiar with another world as compared to the situation in The Netherlands. When Indonesia gained independence (after much cruelty) many people sought a new home (330.00 people returned !). They were used to a free life under the tropical sun. Some moved on to that African spot Rhodesia (still a colony) and tried to built a new life. They had to start at the bottom of the white social ladder. So there is this triangle of the East Indies (presentday Indonesia), The Netherlands and Rhodesia/Zimbabwe
In this triangle the Dutch town Deventer played a pivotal role. In this town was started in 1912 a College of Tropical Agriculture, geared towards work in the East Indies. Many young men went for training at this institution. They learned a lot about farming, cultures and languages. Some of those who ended up in Rhodesia were trained in Deventer, trained for a life in the East Indies. Already for many years (since 1955) there is a very regular Deventer-reunion in Harare (only for men!).
After the Second World War (1939 – 1945) many Dutch people left the Lowlands to find a better life in another spot. Many went to the Unites States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The Dutch government encouraged this exodus and it hoped it would lessen the burden of the government in the years of rebuilding the country after the ravages of the war. The government decided to open diplomatic talks with the government (under British rule) that settled in Salisbury. The Governor Sir John Noble Kennedy is of the opinion that the Dutch people are welcome. South Rhodesia, North Rhodesia and Nyasaland need good artisans. Other people confirm the need for skilled people, but there is a limit for Dutch people. In 1951 67 Dutch had indicated they wanted to move to South Rhodesia. In January 1955 the first government sponsored flight to Bulawayo (the airport in Salisbury was not suitable).
During the days of the regime of Ian Smith the country was boycotted by many countries. This was a difficult situation for those farmers with cash crops, like tobacco. De Bruyne gives some information on the way this boycott was evaded by the farmers. Suddenly nearby countries had a huge export of tobacco. During the days of the Smith rule the guerillawar was intensified, and some Dutch farmers took part in this fighting, in order to safeguard their farms. De Bryune visits a tobacco auction in Harare and talks to people who have been involved in tobacco during their whole life. And he notices a growing Chinese influence in the tobacco industry.
In 1998 the Dutch government and the Zimbabwean government made an agreement on the protection of the bilateral investments. For the Dutch farmers that had been chased from their property this meant that the Zimbabwean government should compensate these farmers. The farmers did not know about this, till in 2001 a Dutch official visits Harare and the Dutch farmers to inform them about this agreement. One pillar of this agreement stipulates that Dutch investors in Zimbabwe are not to be discriminated upon as compared to Zimbabweans. Another pillar is the compensation in case of nationalisation of their property. A third pillar is in case of conflict on these matters a party can bring it before the ICSID in Washington (USA). This organisation is linked to the Worldbank. Some farmers decide to bring their cases before the ICSID. They win their case, Zimbabwe has to pay an amount decided by the ICSID and up till this moment the Zimbabwean government has not paid anything. Also people with another nationality are still waiting for a compensation. After the decision of the ICSID the confiscation of farms and property did not stop.
At the start I mentioned the Schippers. They are not the only ones who appear on the pages of this wellwritten book. We meet the widow Oostindien, who in her eighties is left farmless. A farmer could expect any day someone or a group of warveterans knocking at the door with the message: Your farm is now mine. Some farmers take up another position in the country, some live on thanks to financial support from their children. Others who already had handed out part of their farm, see the remaining part still taken from them. Another farmer is now manager on his ‘own’ farm. Some Dutch / Zimbabwean farmers (who still farm of whose relatives still farm) did not want to cooperate with the writer for fear of repercussions. Some had started farming in the in the pre- UDI days, some started farming in the post-1980 days.
Marnix de Bruyne has written a book that gives insight into the developments of Zimbabwe, from a different angel than the usual one, i.e. the British one. He has managed to intertwine the human approach with his paper research in a very readable way. He has written a book that is hard to put down (even though I missed proper maps).
Marnix de Bruyne – We moeten gaan. Nederlandse boeren in Zimbabwe – 2016