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Government moves to seize Chihuri farm

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GOVERNMENT is intensifying its vindictive approach to seizing farms belonging to its critics, most of whom were the late former president Robert Mugabe’s loyalists in the twilight years of life and rule.

OWEN GAGARE

The latest victim is former police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri whose Inyika Farm in Shamva, Mashonaland Central province, has been threatened with invasion by Zanu PF youths who have been to the property this week which they want to grab and subdivide into small plots.

The other victims of the government’s politicised approach are Saviour Kasukuwere, Patrick Zhuwao, Ignatius Chombo and Jonathan Moyo.

 In a major twist of history and irony, Mugabe’s family has also lost land seized by Zanu PF activists in the Mazowe area. 

 The government has also said it wants to take land from the family. Its other properties, including cattle, have been looted, something unimaginable at the height of the strongman’s power.

Prominent human rights lawyer Siphosami Malunga and his business partners Zephaniah Dhlamini and Charles Moyo have also been victims as Zanu PF secretary for administration Obert Mpofu has been trying to grab their farm.

Sources close to the Chihuri situation say Zanu PF youths have been to the farm and threatened to take it over, saying they had government support to do so.

The farm manager has filed a police case over the incident, a mere routine given that farm invasions are political and police have failed to enforce the law when it comes to land grabs.

 Farm invasions started in 2000 when Mugabe lost a constitutional referendum and sought to deal with white commercial farmers who opposed land redistribution, while supporting the now defunct main opposition MDC under the late former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Chihuri himself forced out prominent Shamva farmer Peter Butler from Woodlands Farm at the height of land invasions.

 A source said: “Government is targeting Chihuri’s farm. The usual approach of sending Zanu PF youths first as a stalking horse is being used. The youths have been there and threatened to take over the farm. The farm manager (named on condition of anonymity) has reported the case to the police. This comes as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is appealing after Chihuri in June won a High Court case to stop the seizure of his properties. Chihuri won his battle against moves to seize his properties under a controversial “unexplained wealth” law.

 The former police commissioner-general, who fled to self-imposed exile during a 2017 military coup, however failed to have the law declared unconstitutional in a partial victory at the Harare High Court.

Justice Pisirayi Kwenda stopped the NPA from forcing Chihuri to forfeit his vast portfolio of properties unless he can explain how he acquired them. Justice Kwenda amended, by deletion, several parts of the unexplained wealth order granted by the High Court on 11 June 2020.

  In doing so, he stopped the NPA from asking further questions about several properties including Chihuri’s imposing Gletwyn mansion sitting on 30 acres and valued at US$7 million. 

 The property combines seven stands. Other properties the NPA has been blocked from inquiring into include a 1 219-square-metre (sqm) house in Harare’s Strathaven suburb, a 9.25-hectare farm in Lomagundi, a 5 500 sqm house in Quinnington, a 4 639 sqm house in Athlone, Harare, a 142 sqm house in Zengeza and a 4 891sqm house in Mt Pleasant, Harare.

 The High Court has also ordered non-interference with several other Chihuri properties including five vehicles, agricultural equipment at the Lomagundi farm and farming equipment at his Inyika Farm in Shamva including combine harvesters, tractors, planters and boom sprays.

 It was however not all good news for Chihuri after Justice Kwenda said he was “not satisfied that good cause has been shown to set aside the other order with respect to funds received” by four of Chihuri’s companies – Croxile Investments, Adamah Enterprises, Mastermedia and Mastaw Investments – from the Zimbabwe Republic Police for services.

 The companies have since stopped trading. Victims of the government’s continued arbitrary seizure of agricultural and communal land say the exercise is driven by corrupt and greedy officials taking advantage of the land reform programme and other policies.

There has been a wave of dispossession and repossession of land in Zimbabwe, targeting people perceived as government critics as well as vulnerable communal communities.

Communities in rural Zimbabwe, including Chilonga in Chiredzi, Dinde in Hwange and villages in Chipinge district, as well as Beitbridge are fighting to retain their ancestral land, as the government prioritises commercial interests.

Phillan Zamchiya, University of Oxford-trained researcher now with the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), has written about the dispossession of rural communities.

 Last year he chaired a webinar “Dispossession and Repossession of Farmland Post-Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe” on the issue.

Moyo spoke about his experience in relation to the issue at the webinar.

“From personal experience, this phase of what is happening in the agricultural land sector is being done by possessive individuals not by the state because I don’t think there is a state policy to dispossess or repossess. These are individuals who are taking advantage of their positions,” Moyo said.

“If you look at the case of Chilonga, it is powerful individuals working with cartels, elevating it to policy through instruments. If you look at examples like myself and you ask who is targeted. They target people who have fallen out of favour or are now at odds with the ruling system.

“This is done to show how cold it can get outside and this is an ideology entertained in Zanu PF. Other targets are those presumed sponsors of regime change activities in order to show them that working with the enemy does not pay.”

 Moyo said they deploy intimidatory tactics, sending security sector officers and youth militia to frighten targeted families.

 At times they get the Lands minister to write eviction letters.

“My case was very painful for me because we bought the farm, we got a loan from CBZ and bought the farm in 2002. In 2005, (then Zanu PF spokesperson Ephraim) Masawi started sending people and attacking us, saying that we are occupying prime land while criticising the state. In 2019, when the late Perrance Shiri was Lands minister he targeted me specifically for criticising command agriculture. He deployed five military people and allocated them land on the farm. Then they were saying the farm was being used to hide weapons. Those five are not farming and the matter is in court.”

 Malunga also spoke at that webinar, saying there is a specific approach to the way things are happening to serve elite interests.

 “The motivation for dispossession of the community is usually primarily to serve elite commercial interests and elite personal interests. I am considered as a critic and hold views that are unpalatable. Unashamedly I am seen as the face of the organisation that supports communities or individuals to hold government accountable, promote and protect human rights and they do not like that,” he said.

 “Somebody instrumental or in the government is unhappy with you; you’re talking too much, you are over-criticising. This organisation that you lead, you are a serious regime change agent. Then you are told the government is going to take over your farm because of this. As a matter of fact, Professor Moyo’s farm was referenced, that as soon as we are done with Professor Moyo and Saviour (Kasukuwere) we are coming to your farm. Of course my response was: Do your worst, we will be waiting.  Then you realise it is an individual who has taken interest, and then you begin to see everything taking place and a minister has signed.”

 The dispossession and repossession of land has also been criticised as a shot in the foot as it makes the country an unattractive investment destination.

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