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Human rights lawyer’s dream deferred, amid abuse of power



ZIMBABWEAN international human rights lawyer Siphosami Malunga (pictured) says when he left his job at the United Nations in New York to work in Africa, his plan was to retire at 50 on a farm at home (he turned 50 on Wednesday), but his dream has been shattered by Zanu PF land grabbers and authorities’ abuse of power.

Malunga and business colleagues Zephaniah Dhlamini and Charles Moyo bought a farm in Nyamandlovu, Matabeleland North province, but it is now being grabbed by Zanu PF leaders, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) officers and their cronies, including Bulawayo businessman Dumisani Madzivanyati, a National University of Science and Technology (Nust) lecturer. Dhlamini also teaches at Nust.

The High Court has barred the farm invaders — Madzivanyati specifically —from interfering with agricultural operations, but they are fighting on. They have appealed to the Supreme Court.

Besides, the farm grabbers, led by Mazithulela, have roped in Prosecutor-General Kumbirai Hodzi, who has now ordered police to investigate possible violations of exchange control regulations and tax laws when Malunga and his partners bought the farm from Zimbabwean-born Australian Jeffrey Swindels.

While government initially denied the three had bought the farm, it is now probing the transaction which it claimed did not exist. The barring of farm invaders from interfering with the property has also given Malunga and others reprieve even if there is an appeal.
Another court battle over the farm gazetting is pending in the courts. Although Malunga and others bought the farm, government has gazetted it. They are challenging the acquisition in a case that may set a precedent in various ways.

The saga has shattered Malunga’s plans and dream, which he held when he left the UN to work closer home in Johannesburg as the retirement clock ticked.

Malunga practiced law in Zimbabwe before joining the UN. He worked in East Timor, a southeast Asian nation occupying half the island of Timor ringed by coral reefs teeming with marine life.

He worked there as a senior defence trial attorney. That was between 2001 and 2003 when the truth and reconciliation commission opened to try and heal wounds of past.

Between 2003 and 2006, Malunga was working for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Afghanistan where he was responsible for rebuilding the justice system.

From there, he went to the UNDP Oslo Governance Centre in Norway. After that he became a regional policy adviser and a democratic practice team leader before going to back New York as senior governance adviser.

He then came down to South Africa where he later quit the job and joined the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa as executive director in preparation for his retirement.  

Reflecting on the plan after his 50th birthday on Wednesday, Malunga posted this message on social media: “8 years ago I made a decision to leave my UN job in New York & come back home to Africa. The plan was simple but solid: work for a few more years, invest in a farm in Zimbabwe & retire by age 50 to farm full-time. I worked for a few years, invested in a farm & now aged 50 have ‘lost’ the farm. So much for the Best Laid Plans. But I’m still standing!”

While the message appeared light, it touched on his deep frustration over the farm and future plans.

Malunga and his colleagues, who have invested heavily on the farm, have cited Zanu PF secretary for administration Obert Mpofu, Matabeleland North Resident Minister of State Richard Moyo and CIO Deputy Director-General Gatsha Mazithulela as the movers behind the farm invasion.

The Zanu PF and government bigwigs have now illegally given the farm to their cronies, Madzivanyati and CIO officer Reason Mpofu, who is the Zanu PF head of administration’s nephew.

They used Agriculture minister Anxious Masuka to execute their mission.

Despite that his father, Sydney Malunga, buried at Heroes Acre, was one of the leading liberation struggle nationalists, Sipho cannot even keep a farm that he bought.

This speaks to lack of rule of law, property rights and a travesty of justice that independent Zimbabwe has now become.

Mazithulela, a distinguished scientist, is accused of trying to squeeze himself into the Esidakeni Farm horticultural project and intimidating its owners with arrest or seizure if they did not accommodate him to offer them political protection. The farm owners also say they hold Mazithulela accountable for the disappearance of some of their documents at the provincial land offices in Bulawayo as at one time he communicated in the middle of the night with one of them while in possession of those missing documents.

These details emerged after shareholders of Kershelmar Farms, which legally owns the farm, approached the High Court seeking an order to stop the government from seizing their land for redistribution.

Kershelmar is co-owned by Charles Moyo, Dhlamini and Malunga.The court action is a culmination of a series of recent events that characterised the battle over the farm.

Mpofu, Richard Moyo and Mazithulela reportedly misled the minister, Masuka, into gazetting the farm through falsehoods, including that the property had previously been acquired by the state, yet it was not and that it was being underutilised, when it is highly productive.

Malunga, Dhlamini and Charles Moyo say they bought the farm from its previous owner — who has now confirmed that — and own it, hence they are heavily invested in it. After buying the farm, they invested in infrastructure, rehabilitating boreholes, main water reservoir, irrigation system and homestead.

To do this, the farmers obtained two loans of about US$230 000 for their horticultural project. Due to their productivity, they have already repaid US$110 000.

They started working on five hectares, but quickly increased that to 30ha and this year they are going up to 55ha. The total irrigable part of the 530ha farm is 85ha, which they intend to utilise as their business grows.

Apart from horticultural activities, Malunga, Dhlamini and Charles Moyo have a commercial beef herd of 150 cattle, 50 goats and 4 000 free range Sasso chickens.

They are planning to increase those numbers significantly.

The farm employs 45 permanent workers and 250 seasonal employees.

The farmers have invested over US$100 000 this year alone and planted eight hectares of onions, six hectares of butternut, six hectares of tomatoes (150 000 plants), yet the invasions are disrupting not only farming activities, but Malunga’s retirement plans — deferring his dream of a quiet early retirement. — Staff Writer.

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