18 April 2002

Chefs in massive land grab

Zanu PF bigwigs including Cabinet ministers, army generals and police head Augustine Chihuri have hijacked the fast-track land reform plan and are grabbing the best of the commercial land meant for resettlement, it was established this week. Investigations by the Financial Gazette reveal that Cabinet ministers, senior army, intelligence, prison and police officers and top Zanu PF officials have been involved in a massive land grab of top commercial farms around Zimbabwe since the farm invasions intensified two years ago. Rag-tag armies of landless peasants, independence-era guerrillas and Zanu PF supporters invaded commercial farms in the name of land hunger in February 2000, prompting President Robert Mugabe’s administration to embark on land reforms that have been criticised as lacking transparency and likely to benefit his cronies.

The fast-track reforms were initially intended to settle more than one million families during the last two years but have been bogged down by lack of finance, massive corruption and the land grab by top ruling party officials. Chihuri forced out prominent Shamva farmer Peter Butler last year and the government-owned Sunday Mail featured him proudly showing off his maize crop at the disputed Woodlands Farm barely two months later. Defence Minister Sydney Sekeremayi is embroiled in a wrangle over the ownership of Maganga Estate near Marondera which about 80 families, including some war veterans, claim was allocated to them for resettlement. Transport and Communications Minister Swithun Mombeshora has been visiting a farm in Mashonaland West during the last three weeks telling its owner that he wants to grow a winter crop at the property, farming sources said this week.

Elliot Manyika, the Youth Minister and architect of Mugabe’s re-election, has taken over Duiker Flats farm while his deputy Shuvai Mahofa is said to have shopped around several farms around Gutu in December and indicated an interest in at least five of them. Mahofa’s family was early this month forced to pay compensation to the family of a war veteran killed during a battle over the ownership of one of the farms, Lothian, in Gutu. Other government ministers to acquire farms recently include State Security Minister Nicholas Goche and Mines and Energy’s Edward Chindori-Chininga. Sources say other government ministers, provincial governors and senior party officials are now touring their home provinces every weekend to shop for the best properties they can grab. Peasants who have invaded a Cold Storage Farm in Nyamandhlovu claim that they been ordered to vacate the property because it has been earmarked for a senior Zanu PF official, who is believed to be Vice President Joseph Msika. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Scores of spies from the Central Intelligence Office (CIO), others from the President’s Office and senior police, army and prison officers have also been implicated in the massive land grab that is being carried out with police complicity. Senior Zanu PF official Saviour Kasukuwere, an ex-CIO official, is already ploughing on Pimento Park farm in Mashonaland Central where war veterans’ leader Joseph Chinotimba and Zanu PF Mashonaland Central youth chairman Dick Mafiosi have also allocated themselves land, according to the sources. In Esigodini, horticultural farmer Alistair Coulson this week said his Glenala farm was being eyed by a senior prison officer and a local police chief who had visited it several times and ordered him to vacate the farm, a major supplier of vegetables to Bulawayo, Gweru and Zvishavane. Thomas and Edith Bayley, an elderly couple which owns Dunbury Farm in Mazowe, has been engaged in a standoff with Zanu PF youths who are demanding that the couple leaves the property, their home for the past 70 years.

A Commercial Farmers’ Union official this week said the standoff at Dunbury "was symptomatic" of what happens on farms that are earmarked for a senior party official and that 150 farmers had been forced out of their land since the March 9-11 presidential vote. The farmers’ union spokesperson said what was worrying was that the police seemed to have abandoned their civic duties by openly participating in the land grab, a charge denied by the police yesterday. She said it was equally disturbing that the government was allowing senior officials to grab land meant for the resettlement of genuinely landless Zimbabweans. Tarwirei Tirivavi, the spokesman for the Zimbabwe Republic Police, said police officers wanted land like other Zimbabweans but denied that they were involved in the land grab or refused to attend to pleas for help from besieged farmers. Tarivavi said the farmers’ allegations were "mischievous" and said some of the commercial farmers were manipulating the land issue for political purposes. "We now have a society with people who seek to be victims," Tirivavi said.

In a separated development, Christian Women for Love and Care, a human rights group, confirmed yesterday that two skeletal remains of people suspected to be activists of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been unearthed at Lenkubini Village in Nkayi district of Matabeleland North. Sakhile Nkomo, the chairperson of the human rights group investigating the disappearance of several MDC supporters and other villagers in the run-up to last month’s presidential ballot, said her team spoke to villagers at Lenkubini who last week witnessed the remains being pulled out from a drained dip tank. "My team confirms that two skeletal remains were found but the police don’t want to confirm it," Nkomo told the Financial Gazette. "What we are doing now is to ascertain where the remains are but we believe they are in the Nkayi mortuary," she said, adding that she was preparing a full report on the discovery which she promised would be made available to this newspaper and other human rights groups. She said her team ascertained from the villagers that police actually pulled out the remains in full view of several anxious villagers, some of whom have relatives still missing and are feared killed by Zanu PF militias in the run-up to the March 9-11 presidential election. Nkomo refused to disclose if her team managed to identify the deceased. "It’s a sensitive issue and we have to be very careful. We will document everything when the time comes," she said.

Nkayi police refused to comment yesterday. Abednigo Bhebhe, the MDC legislator for Nkayi, said a villager also indicated to him on Monday that bodies had been found after the dip tank had been emptied. "That the bodies were found is true but we are not sure of the number. One villager told me it was three bodies. I am doing my own investigations because I believe there are about six bodies lying at Nkayi mortuary. They passed through the police but the person in charge of Nkayi refused to comment on the issue to me," Bhebhe said. Since the government lost the February 2000 constitutional referendum, ZANU PF has declared Nkayi a no-go area for the MDC. Thirty-two people, most of them members of Zanu PF’s militia, have been arrested in connection with the murder earlier this year of James Sibanda, a headman from Mathendele Village in the same district. Sibanda’s badly brutalised body was found buried in a shallow grave by villagers, leading to the arrest of the 32. (ZWNews / Financial Gazette)

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