Traces of racist policies at tobacco auction floors


IT is 2 O’clock in the morning.
My eyelids are heavy.
I have to be up at six.
The thought of that much needed sleep, however, seems like a luxury compared to where I am.
I am at one of the country’s major auction floors.
Tobacco farmers have brought in their harvest.
This is one of the country’s major foreign currency earning crops if not the top one.
These optimistic men and women wait patiently for their turn to be served.
They have endured the season of cropping, the harvest, the curing of tobacco in the barns and finally the long journey to Harare.
As they arrive in the capital, their trucks slowly make their way to the auction floors.
At this one place in particular where I am, I was greeted by an almost two kilometres long queue.
Stories being told are quite emotional.
Some farmers say they have been in the queues for the last three days.
They expect another four days after the crop finds its way to the receiving bays where the long wait for the greenbucks does become a reality at that point.
They have to find somewhere to sleep during this waiting period which at most lasts seven days.
The rooms they sleep in have broken windows.
There are no doors.
Both men and women sleep on the bare floors side by side.
The accompanying babies also join the elders on the not-so-welcoming floors.
This is quite disturbing especially when I ask for a toilet and have to join a long troop of men and women seeking to go in one by one.
I ask myself, do such conditions still prevail in Zimbabwe?
This question is raised by the fact that at another different hour before this one I saw white farmers bring in their golden leaf.
They just drive through and deliver their crop.
They do not wait at all.
I am sure even the cheque finds its way to them while these men and women I am standing among right now wait patiently for theirs all in the name of small-scale farmers.
The discrimination is so visible and raises anger the moment one takes their mind to try and understand all this.
The fact is there are still a lot of racist tendencies in our agriculture.
What makes these guys so special compared to these black men and women who sacrifice so much to oil the wheels of our economy through their own contributions?
I have asked countless times why our farmers have to endure such inhuman treatment and conditions when they are supposed to receive royal treatment for their labour on this land.
The answers from the tobacco authorities are not convincing at all.
They say if farmers do not register on time, this is what they will endure.
But I still won’t take this explanation without further probing.
If there are such a huge number of our farmers who do not register, do they have to endure such conditions of service?
Do they deserve sleeping in the open?
Do they deserve enduring such long queues with the sun beating upon them by day and the cold biting them by night?
Should they then be sentenced to sleeping side by side with children upon bare floors on such cold nights?
Have we lost our sense of empathy all in the name of profit?
I cannot imagine a day when these white farmers could ever be part of these long queues.
The argument obviously will be that they register on time.
But still they are a minority compared to our new farmers who got land during a historic agriculture revolution.
We still need to hold them, walk with them and nurture them to a certain level. They do not have the capital.
They have learnt skills on the job.
The highs and lows of that industry are still new grounds they have to break.
To ice this not so good cake, those who have been in the industry still want to protect their gained territory.
There is a feeling of deliberate manipulation to present our resettled farmers in the tobacco industry as disorganised, not able, and lacking in terms of productivity focus.
Somebody needs to intervene on behalf of these men and women.
They are an important constituency whose needs also need to be addressed.
They come to these floors exuberating with confidence and zeal.
After a couple of days of waiting and snail pace service while watching the white commercial farmers drive past them, their feelings start to conjure up.
Looks like somebody still wants to keep our farmers in the bondage of servant mentality.
It does not matter how much procedure they have skipped or what they have not done.
Zimbabwe is their land and they must be assisted and taught to do things according to the book.
While they are being taught those essentials, we need to be patient with them too. They have had to endure a lot as they grow fast in this knowledge demanding tobacco growing sector.
They have not done so badly either.
For that reason, our tobacco farmers deserve better than that I witnessed at that auction floor.
It’s all politics, and it is playing out so badly, at the expense of the real owners of the land called Zimbabwe.


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