AFTER almost three months on vacation and medical treatment in the Far East, First Lady Grace Mugabe arrived back in the country last Sunday to a storm generated by her widely publicised attempt to grab Manzou farm in Mazowe and turn it into a private game park.
Hazel Ndebele/Herbert Moyo
Grace will sooner rather than later have to make a decision whether to go ahead and intensify the land grab at the expense of thousands of villagers, or back off after intense all-round criticism as well as resistance from some of the villagers who claim they cannot leave their crops which are nearing maturity and, in any case, they have nowhere to go.
Although it has been widely reported that she wants to establish a game park, government sources said this week this was a disguise as her real interest is in mining gold which is abundant in the area.
She has reportedly engaged Russians and the Chinese to partner her.
“The First Lady has engaged the Russians in exploring three gold mines which are within Manzou. She also has plans to go into partnership with Chinese investors in gold mining,” said a top government official.
“The Chinese are supposed to provide the material for the fencing, while Zimparks will provide the labour for the fencing and the animals. That is the plan which is there for disguise,” sources said.
Illegal gold panners have been mining alluvial gold in Manzou area since 2000. There are also several abandoned mine shafts on the farm.
When the Zimbabwe Independent visited one of the small-scale gold mines, most of them were in an underground shaft and a few could be seen pounding stones and “rocking” to select the gold.
One of the miners, Chris Gatsi, said mining was his only source of living.
“This has been my source of living since 2000 and I am able to feed my family from the little that I get. I have nowhere else to go. As long as there are no jobs, mining here is my only source of income. They want us to go where and do what?” he asked.
On a good week the miners earn about US$50 each.
Grace left the country with husband President Robert Mugabe and their children in December to holiday in the Far East but she had to remain behind when he returned last month due to an operation for appendicitis — her third operation which she claims had left her feeling incomplete.
“This is the third operation that I have undergone in my life so I cannot say I am a complete human being,” Grace announced upon arrival at the Harare International Airport where she revealed she has also had operations to remove her tonsils and gallbladder.
However Grace, who declared herself fit again, will have to address the Manzou saga where police have commenced demolishing structures and evicting thousands of villagers to make way for her game park as well as gold mining ventures before they were halted by the High Court. Last month Justice Erica Ndewere interdicted government from destroying the villagers’ homes and evicting them “pending the procurement of a court order or alternative resettlement land”.
The quasi-government Environmental Management Agency (Ema) has revealed that illegal mining in Mazowe worsened the growing problem of soil erosion and silting of rivers and dams.
In its report titled Zimbabwe Environment Outlook, Ema concluded that the Mazowe catchment area has 30 000 panners and “at least 10 000 of these were found on the Mazowe River along a 10km stretch”.
The environmental concernhave, however, failed to deter Grace from pursuing her mining interests. There has been widespread condemnation of Grace’s insatiable land appetite, which has seen her family amass more than 15 farms and even displacing big business concerns as she builds an empire in the Mazowe district.
Grace, who has evicted hundreds of families to build her fledgling empire in Mazowe, has also constructed an opulent double-storey mansion on Mapfeni farm just across the road from the orphanage and the Amai Mugabe Junior School.
The mansion is nearing completion with just a few fittings like windows remaining.
The close by Mapfeni farm, which stretches from Mazowe Hotel to Mazowe High School along the Old Mazowe Road, was added to the Grace empire after she evicted close to 300 families to acquire it in 2012.