Addendum to Mike Rook’s Review of The Unbearable Whiteness of Being by Rory Pilossof

Early 2002 The Farmer magazine that first appeared in 1942 as Vuka the organ of the Matabeleland Farmers' Union suddenly disappeared. The official statement issued by the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) at the time was 'financial constraints'. Mike Rook its CEO who served the CFU for 23 years (1979-2002) now publicly reveals the true story behind its forced shut down ...

Since my review of Rory Pilossof's book THE UNBEARABLE WHITENESS OF BEING; Farmers Voices From Zimbabwe, I have had numerous feedback from Zimbabwe farmers, mostly concerning the chapter devoted to The Farmer magazine. The question everyone asks is why were large-scale commercial farmers in general and Commercial Farmers Union members in particular not consulted or even informed of the arbitrary shut down of their only means of communication?

It was a matter of fact that the CFU licence fee was structured to include receipt of The Farmer. It would therefore have been courteous and correct for CFU to have facilitated open discussion and debate amongst its members before closure of the magazine, allowing an opportunity to mount a concerted rescue operation. The opposite occurred! To set the record straight for Zimbabwe's large-scale commercial farmers past present and future, I have decided to put this topic into the public domain.

The closure of The Farmer magazine in early 2002 was orchestrated by the existing CFU administration and the magazine's own Board of Trustees, that included the incumbent CFU president and director. The lame excuse given for its demise was lack of viability. Due to prevailing circumstances the magazine was no longer the Union's 'cash cow'.

Despite CFU trying desperately to stop the accessing of its members' email addresses the magazine's CEO received them surreptitiously from a sympathetic Head Office staff member. The resulting feedback was overwhelming support for The Farmer. The vast majority of CFU members not only agreed to pay for the magazine, but insisted it continue publishing. A business plan with an accompanying income expenditure analyses showing a reasonable financial surplus was subsequently presented to CFU and the magazine's Board of Trustees. The business plan was never even considered. It was summarily shelved and conveniently ignored by the Union and The Board of Trustees.

So why such perverse skulduggery? Why was The Farmer with its proud history of serving Zimbabwe's large-scale farming community for over half a century through wars pestilence and  droughts silenced? The simple answer is that neither the Union or its Board of Trustees were able to influence the magazine's content or compromise its independence. Being too timid to sack the editor it was decided to remove the publication instead.

To add insult to injury the manner of the closure itself was a shameful example of duplicity and Machiavellian conspiracy between CFU and the Board of Trustees. To avoid legal obligations of severance pay due to the enforced redundancies of loyal and long serving staff: CFU and The Board of Trustees connived together to present the Trust as the employer, not CFU. As the Trust had no reserves of capital this meant staff, some with over thirty years on the magazine, would leave with nothing. A letter solicited by the magazine's CEO from CFU's own lawyers clearly stated the employer as CFU. The CFU and Board of Trustees were forced to back down and the issue was forcefully redressed, albeit harshly with some malevolence and under duress. The Farmer was sacrificed on the altar of expediency by those in trusted positions that were  expected and required to display and implement the highest standards of morals integrity and fortitude.

Alas! The realisation that it is easier to tear down than to build up came too late to save The Farmer.
Subsequent CFU administrations on two occasions tried unsuccessfully to launch replacement magazines.  The publication AgriZim was launched and managed to publish for awhile before disappearing, and afterwards a second attempt at a magazine with European Union funding never even saw the light of day.

Review: The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Farmers’ Voices from Zimbabwe

By Rory Pilossof

Book reviewed by Mike Rook

It is interesting to note that the surrender of Rhodesia and the end of Apartheid in South Africa closed down the last bastions of white supremacy in Africa.

In the newly independent Zimbabwe it is a matter of fact that the large scale commercial farmers under the banner and leadership of the newly formed Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) continued to represent white power. The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) and the Zimbabwe National chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) never posed such a threat.

Pilossof’s focus on the white farming community therefore, and its desperate efforts to adjust to the new order without loss of privileges: provides a riveting read an invaluable legacy and a fascinating and pertinent historical record.

In a nutshell The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Farmers’ Voices from Zimbabwe vividly documents the ensuing post independence power struggle between two powerful and obdurate protagonists. In the red corner is the power hungry ruling ZANU/PF party, and in the blue corner the wealthy white farmers owning “70?of the best arable land and producing most of the food. As the saying goes, when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.

The resulting rumble in the jungle created economic chaos and confusion: and Zimbabwe reversed backwards with a dash of speed, loosing its ability to feed itself as well as its currency and credibility.


“The position and security of white farmers was totally undermined by the land occupations. They no longer owned the land (and all that was on it) and this fundamentally undermined their paternalistic relationship with their labour. Many blamed labour for its part in the deteriorating situation, unable to see that the farm workers had no way to resist the wave of violence unleashed by ZANU-PF and its supporters. Some white farmers even blamed the farm labourers for the situation by voting for Mugabe as far back as 1980.”

“Within the white farming community, the paternalistic attitudes that were so prevalent during the colonial era, remained intact at the turn of, and beyond, the new millennium. There was an overwhelming failure to redefine labour relations in the post-colonial setting. As the quote used for the subheading above attests, Farmer 32 viewed the labour on his farm as ‘his’; his blacks, his workers, his ‘houts’. This sense of ownership arises from the white farmer’s possession and control of the land, on which everything belongs to him.”

About the author

Rory Pilossof is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. His research interests include cultural and social history, colonial/pos t-colonial transitions, land and current politics in Zimbabwe.

Source of the review: