*** The views expressed in the articles published on this website DO NOT necessarily express the views of the Commercial Farmers' Union. ***
When a white farmer in Zimbabwe gets shot in the face
Published on : 26 February 2013 - 5:00am | By RNW Africa Desk
Farmer Piet Zwanikken was shot in the face, while standing outside his home
on the tobacco farm in Mashonaland West that he’s owned for the last 11
years. Although Zimbabwe’s remaining white farmers may not regularly make
headlines these days, pressure to get off land seems to be rising as the
country’s elections loom. Zwanikken says the trouble began a year ago when
someone in the elite with political ties had set his eye on the farm. Here’s
his story as told to RNW correspondent Arne Doornebal.
On the 17th of December at about 7 o’clock in the evening, I heard a knock
at my gate. My wife told me to be careful when I went out with my torch. My
14-year-old son followed me to the gate and, when I got within about ten
metres, I shone the torch. I identified three of the people waiting for me
as people staying on the farm for the last ten years. I knew them as
trouble-causers who were part and parcel of helping remove me from the farm.
So, after greeting them by their names, I asked from a distance what they
wanted. The shooter – I knew him very well – addressed me first. He said:
“Good evening, Mr. Zwanikken, we have uncovered a big problem with tobacco
being stolen from your field.”
This was a ploy to get me closer. I did, in a way, smell a rat. But that
ruse of saying my tobacco was being stolen drew me to the security fence. I
went pretty close, I would say within two metres, to listen to their story.
As I turned my head from listening to what the one guy was saying to the
person on his left, the shooter bought up a handgun and fired. I saw this
out of the corner of my eye, but it was too late to do anything. The shot
didn’t go straight, but ended up going through my nose and cutting through
my right cheek.
Zimbabwe then and now
There used to be over 4,500 white farmers in Zimbabwe. We played an
important role in the food production of this country. Today, less than 300
My father warned me. As a child he was thrown out of Indonesia, a former
colony of the Netherlands. He never wanted to own land as he realized we
could get expelled again. I only began farming in the late 1990s, soon after
which, things turned ugly. The Zimbabwean government started taking land
from white farmers and redistributed it to so-called veterans of the
liberation war. But most people who were awarded farms were just political
Our Riverhead tobacco farm measures 546 hectares. The government carved it
up into 29 smaller farms. Soon after we were informed about this, a convoy
of trucks stopped in front of our house, bringing 29 families and their
belongings. Effectively, this meant that from 2001, we were without our own
land on that farm. The only option to continue operating was to pay off
these families. I gave them fertilizers, seeds and money. We found a way to
live with it, but it wasn’t easy. Each day people would knock on our door
with problems they wanted us to solve. I spent 20,000 euros per year on
these people, but still managed to make a living for my own family. In the
end, we grew over a hundred hectares of highly profitable tobacco.
“I would mean business”
That night, my son and I reacted extremely quickly. We sprinted back to the
house. My son was very traumatized. But we got in the house, we switched the
lights off. I got one of my hunting rifles and fired a shot through the
window, up into the trees, just to let those guys know I was OK and I would
mean business if they tried to come in and finish the job.
Afterwards, they were rounded up. They claimed not to have been there, to
have no knowledge of the shooting. Being very simple people, they were well
represented by a lawyer and let out on bail for 100 dollars within two and a
half weeks after the shooting. The whole thing is very political – a fat
cat, someone aligned with the upper echelon of the Zanu-PF, has obviously
done a lot of negotiating in the party to put pressure on the judge to
release these people.
As the present political situation stands, it’s going to be extremely
difficult for me to remain on the farm with these killers at large. They
might feel untouchable, having been let out so quickly after attempting a
murder. They may just try this murder again, and I don’t want to take that
chance by being around.