Reflections from the CFU Congress: Resilience, Residual influence, Renewal?

Taruvinga Magwiroto

Attending the public session of the Commercial Farmers Union Annual General Meeting on 29 September this year, my first impression was that this is an organisation in decline. Battered and bruised by jambanja, membership depleted by migration and natural attrition, it is fact that CFU has literally shriveled, both in terms of membership and in terms of influence. But it is testament to the resilience of its office-bearers that it is still standing, and has enough residual influence to want me to attend, and enough pull to attract a ministerial statement read by a high-ranking ministry official.

In part, the continued relevance of CFU lies in the fact that it has been the mastermind behind an internationally acclaimed commercial farming industry in this country. CFU has a pride of place in the commercial agricultural story of this nation. Its rise is evidence of the power of organisation. Indeed the Minister of Agriculture’s statement lauded the importance of ‘organized farming’ and CFU’s role in that. CFU was the organizational engine that gave structure and spring board to its creative and industrious members who created wealth from working the land.

But the decline of CFU is a cautionary tale of the folly of ignoring the human relations side of life. On one hand one could see CFU as a victim of seismic, generational social events, but on the other hand, one could also see it as an important actor in those events, playing a hand that was fated to lose in a game that should not have had any losers at all.

The residual influence of CFU lies in the fact that among its dwindling and ageing members lies some of the most knowledgeable farmers in the world. It is a remarkable human capital, and I have always wondered how that capital could be tapped for the common good. Moreover, it is obvious that Zimbabwe needs a thriving commercial agricultural sector, and CFU still retains the organizational nous of running a commercial agricultural sector. The two need each other, but on what terms?

The Minister’s speech, read on his behalf by Prof. Obert Jiri touched on a wide-ranging issues, such as an ongoing review of various land-related acts to align them with changing realities; the issue of 99 year leases; the relevance of Joint Venture agreement framework and the importance of completing annual return forms.

The guest speaker on the occasion was Mr. Alan York. He touched on the history of land in Zimbabwe, the conflict precipitated by historical conquests, fights for justice and restitution. Listening to him speak, I could pick that there was an understanding there, a realization about the rough justice of jambanja. He highlighted the key CFU issues: the issue of compensation, security of tenure and how to create conditions necessary for the resurgence of commercial agriculture. According to York, the key issue was how to re-build bridges and rebuilt the trust depleted by jambanja. In his own words, he mentioned the necessity of building a fascinating concept that he dubbed “Team Zimbabwe” in agriculture.

What was clear was that CFU is clearly on a strategic renewal path. And sitting at the top table alongside the CFU President was renewal in the flesh: Sam Miller is a freshly-minted CEO of CFU. I had a chat with him previously, and he impressed me as intelligent, balanced and realistic.

Below, I reproduce my diary entry after that first meeting.

After more than an hour of mostly listening to Sam Miller, I realized that he is a man with both a vision and a mission. His vision: to see Zimbabwean commercial agriculture on the ascendancy again. His mission: to tear down the barriers that stand in the way of that vision.  Despite the past, and in spite of it.  “The past is the past, it happened. How do we salvage something out of the ashes?”

There was a sense of déjà vu for me. Because in my own way, here was the CFU CEO thinking along the same lines as I have been thinking for a long time. But standing in the way of his vision are three formidable stumbling blocks: the compensation issue; the ‘hardliners’ and politics.

There are no easy answers he tells me. There are no guarantees. But he has a rough idea. Attending the Nkunzani/CAGOZ Field Day left a deep impression on him. He saw something in the flesh that had been hitherto only a possibility in his imagination.

Can black and white people work together for the common good of agriculture in post land reform Zimbabwe?

CFU and Zimbabwean agriculture. It is clear the two need each other, but on what terms? I left the AGM with that question ringing in my mind. I am convinced, just as Sam Miller is, that with the right ideas, the right relational base and the right structure, Alan York’s ‘Team Zimbabwe in Agriculture’ is an ideal that can be actualized.

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