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The Land Reform Deception – Targeting Farms

— Note that this Page Contains Sensitive Images — 

The Land Reform Deception highlights the extensive violence and intimidation of workers and farmers during the land seizure era. This page aims to supplement and give deeper insight into the violence by providing example photographs of theft and vandalism, ‘trashings’, poaching, harm to livestock and horses, general arson, the burning of workers’ homes, threat and extortion letters, as well as information on the locations where farmers were murdered.

Theft and Vandalism

Farmers provided first-hand accounts of theft and vandalism on their farms. Elizabeth Shore, a farmer’s wife, stated, ‘there are some people [farm invaders] who have gone around the various farm houses and simply stripped the pine out [wood fittings], and the doors and the windows – and made a business of it. I know all the farms adjacent to the tribal, old communal areas are just stripped.’ Shore continued, ‘if you were allocated a farm, you [farm invader] stripped the pumps… even underground piping, all the copper cable, or the light fittings, the cold rooms – they are in town [being used or sold] – asset stripping. It is what they can take off it.’ Another farmer’s spouse, Debbie McKinley, spoke about the complicity of state security: ‘police were actually taking looted stuff out in police Land Rovers. What they did was, they did about 30 homes totally destroyed in one spree in about one week. I mean that is totally destroyed.’ The following figures show theft at a pump house. In the first and second figures, electronic components that control the pumps have been stolen. In the third figure expensive pumps have been stolen.


The destruction of agri-property could occur gradually, as in theft of livestock or poaching, or suddenly when groups of 100 or more farm invaders moved en masse onto a farm and almost completely stripped it of movable assets in a matter of hours. The Chinhoyi, Mhangura and Karoi area of Mashonaland West witnessed ‘trashings’ in August 2001. In total, 46 farms were targeted and four homes burnt in these incidents.

The following figures show how a ‘trashing’ event was devastating for farmers and their families. Door and window frames torn from solid brick walls, toilets were taken, and all of the farmer’s (and the family’s) personal possessions stolen. Even kitchen cabinets and roofs were removed and electrical wiring pulled from conduits. What could not be taken was almost always vandalised. These figures demonstrate how thoroughly a looting spree could dispossess a family of their personal property – especially given that these ‘trashings’ often took place within the span of only a few hours. Figures below highlight the how asset-stripping proved devastating to a farmer’s ability to operate his business. These figures show a workshop that has been ‘trashed.’ Valuable tools have been stolen along with supplies of oil and fuel. Not only would replacing such losses be expensive, but in the short term equipment vital to the operation of the farm could not be adequately serviced.

Threat and Extortion Letters and Drawings

Threat letters were widely sent during the land seizure era. The figure below is a letter sent to a rancher demanding 45 head of cattle. The farm invader has no legal claim to the cattle. The farm invader included his name and address on the letter to highlight that he had little fear of punishment (the rancher’s name and other details have been redacted by the researcher).

Figure 1. Threat Letter Demanding Cattle



Figure 2 shows a letter written to a farmer in which it is stated that the farmer’s senior workers were being too heavy-handed with employees. Such letters were a common tactic used to intimidate farmers and their workers. Senior black workers were portrayed as ‘sell-outs’ on the side of the white farmer. The intent was to sow discontent amongst regular employees by defining events along racial lines. Regular employees would then be faced with the dilemma of either standing against the farmer (i.e., being pro ZANU-PF) or supporting the farmer (i.e., pro white/MDC, anti-ZANU-PF). This letter also contains anti-colonial phrases from the nationalist era asserting the sovereignty of Zimbabwe, and claims that the farmer is insulting the ruling party. Figure 3 follows a similar strategy, and Figure 4 differs by directing threats to senior black managers directly.

Figure 2. Threat Letter (A)

Threat Letter 3

Figure 3. Threat Letter (B)

Threat Letter 1Figure 4. Threat Letter (C)Threat Letter 2

Threat Drawings

A rancher in Masvingo Province had his hunting concession invaded by farm invaders. In one of many incidents, invaders wrote graffiti on the walls of a hunting lodge that the respondents found highly intimidating, as it implied a threat of rape. In Figure 5 the Shona words are as follows: ‘Tipe tidye mahara mbutu iyo’ – ‘Give us for free so that we can eat the pussy.’ ‘Eat’ denotes sexual intercourse, not oral sex. Words near the woman are, ‘Huyai zvenyu musvire baba’ – ‘Come and have sex father.’ ‘Father’ is a submissive term of respect for a sexual partner. Below the woman is written, ‘Ndiyo Mbutu iyi’ (‘This is the pussy’), and to the right it says, ‘Ndodam(a) chete,’ ‘enjoy only.’ The native Shona speaker who provided this translation made it clear that the term ‘pussy’ was circumstantially appropriate, as the Shona equivalent word is neither clinical nor exceptionally vulgar. The respondents also found the image in Figure 6 threatening; these drawings were also left by farm invaders in the hunting lodge. In this image, soldiers are depicted on the walls carrying AK-47 assault rifles and SKS rifles. These weapons are shown firing at an individual, whom the respondent took to be himself and his wife.


The following figures show the result of extensive poaching on game ranches. Especially when undertaken by snaring, poaching was highly effective for farm invaders and resulted in the deaths of thousands of game animals. Wildlife was the fundamental commercial asset on game ranches, which hosted hunters and tour groups for commercial purposes, and poaching thereby threatened the livelihoods of ranchers. One figure shows a zebra killed by a snare. The snare is still evident in the photograph. According to respondent, Guy Hilton-Barber, farm invaders simply took the shoulder of the animal and left the rest of its carcass. The second image shows a kudu cow. Additional snares located by the respondent’s workers are shown in the photograph. The third figure depicts a rhino caught in the snare. The photograph shows that the snare was deeply embedded in the rhino’s leg. The respondent arranged for veterinarians to sedate the rhino and surgically remove the snare, saving its life. The fourth figure demonstrates the overwhelming extent of snaring on the respondent’s ranch. The respondent found 46 kilometres of snares. The fifth figure shows a small rhino that was killed and skinned and the final figure shows a small rhino killed by arson, according to the respondent. The respondent stated that fires were deliberately set by farm invaders to destroy grazing and flush animals so they could be snared and caught.

Deliberate Harm to Livestock and other Animals

The tactic of targeting farm animals was widely used by farm invaders as a means of evicting the farmers. The animals were not normally consumed by the invaders. Animals were targeted because – as interview respondents indicate – farmers often held a close personal connection to livestock; by targeting them farmers were deprived of valuable commodities and had to face the emotional trauma of encountering the animals.

The following figures show a cow that had its eyes removed and was disemboweled. The purpose of targeting the animal in this way was to intimidate the farmers with the objective of evicting them. The mutilation was often intended to leave the animal alive for several hours. Evidence of the animals remaining alive for some period of time is demonstrated by the fact that the animal has clearly left marks in the soil where it was kicking. The cries from the animal and sight of its fatal wounds had,  according to respondent interviews, were deeply distressing for the farmer. Another figure in the following photograph shows a cow with a wound deliberately caused by farm invaders who struck the animal with an axe on its spine; the animal was still alive but unable to walk when the photograph was taken. Respondents reported that this method of intimidating farmers was intended to traumatise the farmer. The cow’s cries, and the fact that it would have to be euthanised by the rancher, was — according to the respondent’s account — deeply distressing and intimidating. The following figure shows a horse targeted by farm invaders seeking to intimidate a farmer into leaving his property. In this incident, the farmer refused to leave, so invaders piled hay around his daughter’s horse and set it alight.  

Arson – General

Arson was a widespread method used to evict farmers and ranchers. Farm invaders carried out arson because  farmers and ranchers need grazing land for their animals. Without natural grazing, farmers would be required to purchase expensive feed. Given that grazing land was often highly combustible, fire provided farm invaders with an inexpensive and easily deployed tool that would cause extreme difficultly and expense for farmers and ranchers. It was also reported that invaders deliberately cut or burnt the biggest trees on the ranch. Ranchers reported that they were told that invaders had identified that trees were personally prized by the rancher and his family, and burning them was a means of intimidating the land owners to leave their land. The figure below shows an extensive area of trees and grassland burnt in Masvingo Province.

 Burnt Trees and Grassland

Threats - Arson - Upload - Upload

Arson – Burning Workers’ Homes

The burning of worker homes was widely reported in this research. The following figures shows a brick foreman’s house burned by farm invaders. The targeting of senior workers was especially common. They also depict a cluster of rondavels (hut-style) homes burnt by invaders. The grass thatch made these home especially susceptible to farm invader arson.

Flooding – Efforts to Evict Farmers from Homesteads

Farm invaders resorted to all sorts of measures to evict farmers and their families from homes. When farm invaders approached homesteads, farmers would often barricade themselves inside in the hope that the invaders would eventually leave. In the figures below the invaders are connecting hosepipes to flood the home in order to force the farmer to leave.

Sources of Images: Les de Jager, Guy Hilton-Barber, anonymous farmer respondents and author’s archive

Please Note: If there are any current or former commercial farmers who would like to contribute images or other data to this website, please contact Charles using the ‘Contact’ link on this website.