Chinotimba causes havoc among tobacco farmers


War veterans leader and trade unionist Joseph Chinotimba had turned farm workers against their employers and most farmers, especially tobacco producers, were leaving because there was no hope of normalcy or business as usual returning to Zimbabwe.

Commercial Farmers Union president Colin Cloete said that “Big Tobacco”, which was assumed to be buyers, were now financing Zimbabwean farmers to move their operations outside the country especially Zambia.

They were prepared to fund all start-up costs of up to 300 farmers and 170 had reportedly entered into the scheme.


Full cable:

Viewing cable 03HARARE355, Tobacco Buyers Reportedly Fund New Ventures Outside

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Reference ID






2003-02-21 06:42

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.










E. O. 12958: N/A


SUBJECT: Tobacco Buyers Reportedly Fund New Ventures Outside

of Zimbabwe


Ref: Harare 338




1. (SBU) Summary: Dispossessed white commercial farmers

report that tobacco growers are trying to fund new ventures

for them in third countries. Up to 170 tobacco farmers have

reportedly entered into such start-up schemes. Other farmers

report that they do not want to continue farming in

Zimbabwe, but they have not decided whether they would

pioneer in another country. End Summary.


2. (SBU) In a recent meeting with the Commercial Farmers

Union (CFU), president Colin Cloete reported that “Big

Tobacco” (he declined to identify who this actually is, but

it appears to be tobacco buyers) is apparently financing new

start-up programs for Zimbabwean tobacco farmers in third

countries, particularly Zambia. According to Cloete, some

tobacco buyers who need the flue-cured flavor tobacco

traditionally produced by Zim commercial farmers have opted

to fund production of the product rather than either: a)

change their long-standing blend, or b) hold out hopes for

an adequate, if reduced, yield — including smaller-leaved,

less well-cured, and less valuable product — from Zimbabwe.

Tobacco buyers want the specific product and don’t really

want to be held hostage to the questionable success of

Zimbabwe’s agricultural reform.


3. (SBU) According to Cloete, tobacco buyers have offered to

completely fund the start-up costs for approximately 300

established producers on new land in third countries, with

pay-back times ranging from five to seven years. Up to 170

farmers have reportedly taken up such offers. Cloete

himself noted that he is a farmer, not a pioneer nor a

politician, and he would prefer (all things being equal) to

continue exercising his skill in Zimbabwe — a sentiment

likely to prevail among third- and fourth-generation

farmers. Most commercial tobacco farmers are in the

position of trying to salvage anything they can from their

lifelong investments, and some continue to farm in Zimbabwe

despite the likelihood they will lose their farms before

harvest. Many of the tobacco farmers still operational are

fighting acquisition in court and/or struggling to fend off

land grabs, whether legal or extra-legal.   If (when) it

becomes apparent to some of the farmers who are still trying

to produce a crop that they will be wiped off the land, they

may well give in and accept a tobacco-buyer-funded start-up




Why Some Farmers Are Taking Up the Offers



4. (SBU) Other farmers have given up all hope of a return

to normalcy and business as usual in the country of their

birth. One forty-five year old commercial tobacco farmer

reported that, even though he is at the prime of his life as

it relates to farming — relatively young, healthy, and

possessing a wealth of specialized experience — he does not

want to continue farming in Zimbabwe. He pointed out that

tobacco, in particular, is a labor-intensive crop that

depends on the trust and cooperation between the farmer and

his labor force. Although like many commercial farmers he

zealously attempted to protect his relationship with his

workers, under pressure from war vets and the influence of

Joseph Chinotimba’s rogue “labor union,” this farmer’s labor

force “turned” against him to the point that his former

laborers participated in the occupation and looting of his



5. (SBU) This particular farmer’s land was purchased in

1999 after it was turned down by the GOZ, and has never

received a Section 8, or Final Notice of Acquisition;

because of repeated harassment, the family moved into town

for its own safety.   When his wife returned to the farm to

check on horses that had been left under the care of some

trusted former workers, she was assaulted and beaten —

along with her 17-year-old son and his friend, while her 11-

year-old daughter watched in a state of shock — by a group

led by the politically-connected Zanu-PF beneficiary Themba

Mliswa, who is “claiming” their farm as a “new commercial

farmer.” How, this man wearily asked, could he again trust

farm laborers who looted his property and then stood by,

refusing to help, while his wife and son were being beaten

by thugs in front of them?





6. (SBU) In sum, tobacco buyers are apolitical — they are

trying to ensure their continuing access to a specific

ingredient, and much of that access depends upon the skill

of the growers. If Zimbabwe’s production does not meet the

buyers’ needs, the buyers have no qualms about dropping

Zimbabwe in favor of a more controlled supply. This new

venture may also indicate a desire by the buyers to move

away from an auction-type model — which would increase both

freedom and income for the farmer, if the skewed economic

policies at play in Zimbabwe were eliminated — to a

“captive-grower” model whereby the buyers would face less

uncertainty and less competition for the final product. In

any case, such a move underscores the fact that tobacco

buyers know that expertise is crucial to produce the

valuable product that they want — it takes more than an

interchangeable peasant farmer with a hoe. In the end,

commercial farmers who decide that continuing to farm is

their best survival strategy may well find the security

offered by tobacco buyers to be more seductive than the

“freedom” – and concommitant risks – which a kinder and

gentler Zimbabwe previously offered.


7. (SBU) As we have pointed out, however (reftel), once

these farmers go, the GOZ loses a potential resource vital

for rebuilding the shattered economy — and must further

contend with a costly compensation claim hanging over its

head. End comment.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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