Elita Chikwati Senior Agriculture Reporter
President Mnangagwa has consoled the Norman family following the death of the first Minister of Agriculture in independent Zimbabwe, Mr Denis Norman.
Mr Norman died two weeks ago in Oxfordshire,United Kingdom, after a long battle with cancer. He was 88.
The former minister, who has been described by many as a bridge between the colonial regime and the new Government of majority rule, was well-known for his contribution in the agriculture sector, particularly tobacco and also as a prominent businessman.
In his condolence message, the President described Mr Norman as a long-time leader of the agriculture sector before independence in 1980.
“Mr Norman was among a few handful of white leaders who offered to serve under a black majority Government at independence, thus validating our policy of national reconciliation following 15 years of our armed struggle against white settler colonialism.
“This was a bold gesture which ended racial polarisation and laid a lasting basis for racial amity and peace in the country. Leaders like Norman, David Smith, Chris Anderson and Dr Timothy Stamps all late will be remembered in our country’s history for playing a salutary role in the formative years of our Nation,” he said.
As Minister of Government, the President said Mr Norman worked hard towards a unified, non-racial
agricultural sector where farmers related to each other and collaborated on grounds of their calling and not along the racial divide of colonial times.
“On behalf of the Nation of Zimbabwe which he loyally served, its Government of which he was part for so long and on my own behalf, I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to the Norman family on their saddest loss. May they derive comfort from the deep respect and regard which our nation continues to give him. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” he said.
Mr Norman was also the former president of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) where he was famous for guiding farmers through difficult times.
He contributed a lot to the empowerment of black farmers who were once deprived of land, access to funding, extension services and lucrative markets.
It was through his efforts that the Grain Marketing Board, Cotton Marketing Board (now Cotton Company of Zimbabwe) and Dairy Marketing Board (now Dairibord Zimbabwe Limited) among other entities were formed to benefit farmers after independence.
Mr Norman was part of the initiation of the Beira Corridor Development and also served as Minister of Transport.
Former Finance Minister Dr Simba Makoni, who served as Mr Norman’s deputy in the Ministry of Agriculture at independence, said he learnt a lot about farming from his senior.
Dr Makoni said he first met Mr Norman in early May 1980 after the inauguration of the new Government of Zimbabwe.
“We served together for eight months until January 1981 when I was moved to become Minister of Industry and Energy Development.
“Also as ministers responsible for key economic ministries, Bernard Chidzero (Economic Planning, Denis Norman (Agriculture), David Smith (Trade and Commerce) and myself (Industry and Energy), we spent a lot of time together coordinating economic policies, strategies and programmes.
“The four of us also travelled together many times in Prime Minister Mugabe’s delegations and when representing the country at regional and international economic fora. In this way, Denis and I developed a strong relationship.
“At our first meeting as Minister and Deputy, Denis asked me what I knew of commercial agriculture, I replied nothing more than picking peas and beans on a commercial farm near my village, to raise money for school fees. He then told me ‘farmers are never satisfied. There’s always either too much or too little of everything’.
“The next enduring lesson he taught me about farming when in the process of preparing proposals to Cabinet for agricultural commodity producer price adjustments was that ‘it’s always cheaper to pay your own farmers than those of other countries’,” he said.
Agricultural economist and land expert, Professor Mandivamba Rukuni said Mr Norman played a pivotal role in the transition from the colonial government to the independent Zimbabwean government.
“Denis Norman had this unusual gift of being able to create. He created a bridge between the colonial system and the new Government of majority rule. The colonial systems of agriculture excluded many black people from the support systems such as research, extension, markets and financing.
“He was the right person at that time to create a transition for Government to start providing for the black farmers. He focused on important things and opened markets through the creation of GMB, CMB and DMB, among others. The Agriculture Finance Corporation was now required to offer loans to black farmers who were once excluded,” he said.
Prof Rukuni said it was because of Mr Norman’s hard work that extension services were extended to black farmers.
“Within three years, (communal and small scale) farmers had increased production and became the major producers of grains and cotton which was not the case years earlier,” he said.
Economic analyst, Mr Eddie Cross said Mr Norman was a prominent agriculture expert and businessman.
“He was very influential in the agriculture sector, particularly tobacco industry. His general sphere was in the agriculture sector where be created a bridge between the new Government and the colonial one. He was a man of integrity and had vast knowledge and wisdom,” he said.
Former Senator and former CFU president, Mr John Laurie, once acknowledged the contributions made by Mr Norman in the agriculture sector saying: “He was apolitical and with his agricultural experience, he immediately set about the task of building agriculture up to be the leading sector of the country’s economy not only in traditional crops but in areas of diversification such as horticulture,” he said.