Letter from Zimbabwe

Dipping day, then and now
Letter from Cathy

Every week in summer and every fortnight in winter we used to round up the cattle and herd them over the road to a neighbouring farm. This was dipping day: hot, dusty, dirty work as over a hundred breeding cows and their calves, along with two temperamental bulls, forced their way into the fenced dip paddock. Pushing, shoving and head butting was the order of the day accompanied by cows bellowing for their calves when they got separated in the melee. One by one the beasts were herded along the ever narrowing race lined with strong poles; soon they had no choice but to be in single file and could only go forwards. As they stepped onto the cement and then into the foot bath a couple of metres from the dip, you knew that they knew: one last, futile attempt to turn back, wide eyes and then splash. A short swim to the other side and they clambered out. Standing in the sun on the sloped concrete drying slab, the fear was gone for the cattle as they dripped dry, the excess chemical-laden water running down the cement drains and back into the dip tank. It was all over in less than two hours: hair skimmed off the top of the dip tank, manure shoveled up, concrete hosed down, gates closed and home in time for tea. In exchange for the use of his facility, along with lots of advice and laughs, our neighbouring farmer charged a box of dipping chemicals a month.

I didn’t realise how we took that well organized, routine operation for granted until I heard this week how it is now for the people who seized our farm and our neighbour’s farm fourteen years ago. When they need to dip their cattle now it involves a six kilometre walk to the nearest functional facility. At the end of the long walk there and back, they question if there’s enough chemical in the dip because the ticks are still alive and clinging to the necks of the cattle, in their ears and under their tails.

How sad it was to learn that the dip on my neighbours farm that saw hundreds of animals treated every week has now been completely destroyed. The fence around the dip paddock has gone; the poles along the race have gone; the concrete foot bath has been smashed out of the ground; the sloped, concrete drying slab no longer exists: broken up, dug out and carried away in jagged squares. The dip tank itself is still there but unusable: dry, cracked and silted up with sand. Broken water pipes and pump, no money to replace looted fencing, no interest in erecting new poles, no agreement by livestock owners on both sides of the road, or in the neighbouring village, to contribute money to lay new concrete and renovate the dip on the seized farm to benefit all.

This sad little picture of before and after comes at a time when little snippets of information are revealed about what’s really been going on during Zimbabwe’s land seizures. Recently the he Minister of Lands whet our appetite for the truth with news that even 10 year old children had been allocated plots on seized farms . The Minister said people acquired farms on behalf of their children, lying about their dates of birth to do so. He said farms and plots fraudulently acquired would be taken back by the government. Apparently a full land audit of acquired farms is set to take place next year at a staggering cost of 35 million US dollars.

What many of us wouldn’t do to be a fly on that wall as those farms are visited and the real truths uncovered. How eager the nation is to know who got what, how they’ve treated the farms they were given and what they’ve been doing out there all these years that’s left us importing 80% of our food. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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