Africa

Chinese farmers take over former white-owned farms in Zimbabwe to cash in on tobacco

Gho Feng gives thumbs up at tobacco farm
Gho Feng gives thumbs up at tobacco farm CREDIT: TSVANGIRAI MUKWAZHI 

Chinese farmers have taken over formerly white-owned farmsfor the first time, investing millions of pounds into tobacco production.

Farms that were badly managed for nearly 20 years, after Robert Mugabe’s mass seizure of white-owned land, are now being worked again in the hope of reaping a  potentially huge reward.

At least five farms have attracted Chinese investment in Mashonaland Central, a region to the north-west of Harare, that was traditionally one of the country’s best tobacco-producing areas.

Safe in the knowledge that Mr Mugabe’s policy of strengthening ties with China will offer a degree of protection, they have poured money into machinery and are taking advice from international experts.

China has become the largest investor in Zimbabwe, the economy of which is still reeling from the land seizures of 2000 and hyperinflation, has taken a nosedive once again.

Unemployment is running at about 90 per cent and the regime is so short of money that it cannot pay teachers or civil servants.

Chen Li Jun,left, sits on a motorcycle with a farm worker 
Chen Li Jun,left, sits on a motorcycle with a farm worker  CREDIT: TSVANGIRAI MUKWAZHI 

The dire economic conditions have prompted rare protests against Mr Mugabe’s regime by a coalition of  opposition parties.

Yesterday, a heavy police presence in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare stopped a planned mass demonstration, as activists claimed police used live ammunition to disperse small protests.

While Zimbabwe’s land reform process has empowered around 60,000 small-scale black tobacco farmers, who grow lower grades of tobacco, many of the bigger farms distributed among Mr Mugabe’s cronies have not fared so well.

Farms just north of Harare lie fallow amid broken fences, fields scorched by fires and scarce livestock. There are few surviving indigenous trees as many were felled by new farmers who could not afford coal to cure their tobacco.

A generation of evicted white farmers have moved abroad or live hand-to-mouth, waiting for promised compensation.

Tsitsi Chiasan attends to tobacco seedlings
Tsitsi Chiasan attends to tobacco seedlings CREDIT: TSVANGIRAI MUKWAZHI 

One farm worker in Mvurwi, about 60 miles north of Harare, said there were now plenty of jobs in the district after years of difficulties following the departure of the white landowners. “The Chinese are spending money,” he said.

Experts believe that the five Chinese-run farms will, despite their limited experience, grow and cure about 1,500 acres of tobacco this year. They said the new  infrastructure including equipment manufactured by US company, Valley Irrigation, must have cost at least £7 million.

Anti-Mugabe protesters clash with police in ZimbabwePlay!00:43

An insider in the tobacco industry said the Chinese company would be paying a hefty rental for the land they are now using to the “political” men who now own the farms.

“The Chinese will pay a percentage of the income from the tobacco as rent,” he said. “Some of that rental should be shared with the white farmers who left their homes with nothing and received no compensation from the  government, but they probably don’t know their old farms are now about to start making money again.”

Horrifying moment a taxi driver is surrounded by riot cops and beaten with truncheons

Horrifying moment a taxi driver is surrounded by riot cops and beaten with truncheons on the floor… during a protest about police brutality in Zimbabwe

  • Violent clashes between Zimbabwean police and protesters resulted in 30 arrests as a riot broke out in Harare
  • Demonstrators forced to lie down in dusty roads and battered by truncheons as police use tear gas and dogs
  • Protest over a number of issues including economic hardship, police brutality and Robert Mugabe’s government
  • A journalist saw protesters severely beat two police officers with sticks before taking their uniforms to wear them
  • Many rioters were young men who make a living from by charging a small fee to load passengers into minibuses
  • The majority of Zimbabwe’s citizens survive on just one US dollar (75p) a day, the official statistics agency says

Violent clashes between Zimbabwean police and protesters resulted in 30 arrests as a riot broke out over economic hardship, police brutality and Robert Mugabe’s government.

Demonstrators were forced to lie down in the dusty roads as machine gun-wielding officers fired warning shots and rounded up civilians in Harare.

One taxi driver can be seen getting a savage beating from six riot cops, another man has his head stood on by an officer carrying a machine gun and bloodied protesters are pictured running from the mayhem.

As well as a number of economical and political issues affecting workers, the protest was ironically about police brutality in the country.

Savage:Taxi driver surrounded by six riot cops who kick him and beat him with truncheons as another demonstrator escapes the fracas

Savage:Taxi driver surrounded by six riot cops who kick him and beat him with truncheons as another demonstrator escapes the fracas

Down in the dirt: Four police officers in riot gear carrying guns as they force protesters to the ground in Harare

Down in the dirt: Four police officers in riot gear carrying guns as they force protesters to the ground in Harare

Blood on the streets: One protester is helped away from the riots while a child (far right) watches on in horror having been caught up in the action on the way to school 

Blood on the streets: One protester is helped away from the riots while a child (far right) watches on in horror having been caught up in the action on the way to school

Police fire tear gas and water cannons at protesters

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Smoking barrel: A Zimbabwean police officer fires a warning shot as the riot gathers pace in the capital

Smoking barrel: A Zimbabwean police officer fires a warning shot as the riot gathers pace in the capital

Brutal: A protester has his face shoved into the dirt by a machine gun-wielding police officers boot as one of his colleagues goes after another civilian with a truncheon

Brutal: A protester has his face shoved into the dirt by a machine gun-wielding police officers boot as one of his colleagues goes after another civilian with a truncheon

Police in Zimbabwe’s capital have fired tear gas, water cannons and warning shots during riots by minibus drivers and others protesting alleged police harassment.

The violence in Harare, in which 30 people were arrested, came amid a surge in protests in recent weeks because of increasing economic hardship and alleged mismanagement by the government of President Robert Mugabe.

An Associated Press journalist saw protesters severely beat two police officers with sticks, then take their uniforms and helmets and wear them.

The protesters blocked roads leading into the centre of the city on Monday, forcing many people to walk up to six miles (10km) to get to work.

The violence in Harare, in which 30 people were arrested, came amid a surge in protests in recent weeks because of increasing economic hardship and alleged mismanagement by the government of President Robert Mugabe

The violence in Harare, in which 30 people were arrested, came amid a surge in protests in recent weeks because of increasing economic hardship and alleged mismanagement by the government of President Robert Mugabe

Outnumbered police later sought to negotiate with the crowds after failing to disperse thousands of protesters, who were concentrated in Harare's eastern suburbs

Outnumbered police later sought to negotiate with the crowds after failing to disperse thousands of protesters, who were concentrated in Harare’s eastern suburbs

Rioters threw stones at police and vehicles, and some children on their way to school were caught up in the chaos.

Outnumbered police later sought to negotiate with the crowds after failing to disperse thousands of protesters, who were concentrated in Harare’s eastern suburbs.

Many rioters were young men who cannot find regular employment and make a living from drivers by charging a small fee to load passengers into minibuses.

Some police were seen firing live ammunition into the air to ward off the crowds. They also brought in police dogs.

The drivers’ grievances stem from anger over numerous roadblocks that police sometimes set up in city streets, which drivers allege are to demand bribes.

Police said they had reduced the number of roadblocks after complaints from parliamentarians, tourism operators and others.

Many rioters were young men who cannot find regular employment and make a living from drivers by charging a small fee to load passengers into minibuses.

Many rioters were young men who cannot find regular employment and make a living from drivers by charging a small fee to load passengers into minibuses.

An Associated Press journalist saw protesters severely beat two police officers with sticks, then take their uniforms and helmets and wear them. A demonstrator, not involved in the attack, can be seen carrying two sticks

An Associated Press journalist saw protesters severely beat two police officers with sticks, then take their uniforms and helmets and wear them. A demonstrator, not involved in the attack, can be seen carrying two sticks

Burning issue: Mugabe, 92, has ruled the southern African country since independence from white minority rule in 1980, scoffing at frequent allegations of human rights violations

Burning issue: Mugabe, 92, has ruled the southern African country since independence from white minority rule in 1980, scoffing at frequent allegations of human rights violations

Thirty people were arrested for inciting the protests, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said.

“We have information and intelligence on the identities of some criminal elements who are behind the social unrest,” Ms Charamba said at a news conference.

Such acts of defiance and clashes with the police are rare in Zimbabwe, although the government deployed the army against 1998 riots over soaring food prices.

Mugabe, 92, has ruled the southern African country since independence from white minority rule in 1980, scoffing at frequent allegations of human rights violations.

Frustrations over rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe, compounded by dissatisfaction over alleged government corruption and incompetence, have resulted in near-daily protests in recent weeks.

On Friday, protesters burned a warehouse at Beitbridge, a busy border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa, over a Zimbabwean decision to ban a wide range of imports.

Seventeen people appeared in court on Sunday over the Beitbridge protests and were charged with public violence.

Separately, state hospital doctors and other government workers said they will strike over the government’s failure to pay their June salaries on time.

Down and out: Frustrations over rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe, compounded by dissatisfaction over alleged government corruption and incompetence, have resulted in near-daily protests in recent week

Down and out: Frustrations over rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe, compounded by dissatisfaction over alleged government corruption and incompetence, have resulted in near-daily protests in recent week

Hands up: A protester is surrounded by three riot police officers as he cowers against a wall

Hands up: A protester is surrounded by three riot police officers as he cowers against a wall

Nowhere to go: The drivers' grievances stem from anger over numerous roadblocks that police sometimes set up in city streets, which drivers allege are to demand bribes

Nowhere to go: The drivers’ grievances stem from anger over numerous roadblocks that police sometimes set up in city streets, which drivers allege are to demand bribes

Grounded: Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has been pleading with Western countries to unlock financing for Zimbabwe in the form of loans that were halted close to two decades ago

Grounded: Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has been pleading with Western countries to unlock financing for Zimbabwe in the form of loans that were halted close to two decades ago

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has been pleading with Western countries to unlock financing for Zimbabwe in the form of loans that were halted close to two decades ago.

The financing dried up due to failure to repay debts as well as international sanctions imposed because of concerns over democratic rights.

Some recent political protests have been notable for their brazenness.

Police said they are looking for Lumumba William Matumanje, a former ruling party activist who used an obscenity to denigrate Mugabe while launching his own political party last week.

People have often been sent to jail for such conduct in Zimbabwe.

Last month, video footage showed an anti-government protester shouting in the lobby of an upmarket hotel in Harare and haranguing police until they move in and drag him away.

The video shows a protest by activists angry at Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s alleged 18-month stay in a 400 US dollars (£300) a night hotel suite in the capital.

Activist Sten Zvorwadza was charged with threats to commit malicious damage to property and was freed on 200 US dollars (£150) bail.

The majority of Zimbabwe’s citizens survive on just one US dollar (75p) a day, the official statistics agency says.

Rock bottom: The majority of Zimbabwe's citizens survive on just one US dollar (75p) a day, the official statistics agency says

Rock bottom: The majority of Zimbabwe’s citizens survive on just one US dollar (75p) a day, the official statistics agency says

The size of Africa is often hugely underestimated on our distorted maps

This is the TRUE size of Africa

Don’t believe what other maps have taught you – most of them have been distorted for centuries. Here’s what it actually looks like to cram a bunch of countries into the extensive landmass that is Africa.

Our most common atlases are distorting the relative size of countries around the world, so German software and graphics designer, Kai Krause, made this map to set the record straight.

“Africa is so mind-numbingly immense, that it exceeds the common assumptions by just about anyone I ever met,” he writes at his website. “It contains the entirety of the US, all of China, India, as well as Japan and pretty much all of Europe as well – all combined!”

It was displayed a few years back in a London gallery as part of a Royal Geographic Society exhibition, for which the curator wanted contributions of “unusual maps”. While Krause says this is a purely symbolic image, made to illustrate just how big Africa is without the very common map distortion known as the Mercator projection.

The Mercator projection is a cylindrical map projection invented by pioneering Flemish geographer and cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, in 1569. And now, centuries later, it’s still being used as the standard map projection for nautical travellers because it can be used to determine a ‘true’ direction.

Any of the straight lines on the map are a line of constant true bearing, so all a navigator needs is one of these maps and a compass to plot a straight course across the ocean. The meridians are drawn as equally spaced, parallel vertical lines, as are the lines of latitude, but horizontally. The further away from the Equator they are, the further away they’re spaced apart in the map. This means that landmasses that are located far away from the Equator look disproportionately huge compared to their Equator-hugging neighbours.

And, as Krause points out on his website, this type of map is ubiquitous in traditional geography education. We see the Mercator projection as the background in our daily television news, and the covers of school atlases. “But the basic fact is that a three-dimensional sphere being shown as a single two-dimensional flat image will always be subject to a conversion loss: something has to give…” he says. “That ability to use lines instead of curves came at a cost: areas near the poles would be greatly exaggerated. Greenland looks deceivingly as if it were the size of all of South America for instance…”

In fact, thanks to the Mercator projection, the size of Africa is often hugely underestimated, says Krause, off by factor of two or three.

So here is the true size of Africa, distortion-free. Click here for a larger, zoomable version, courtesy of The Economist.

size-of-africaImage by Kai Krause, courtesy of The Economist

Sources: The Economist, Kai Krause’s website