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Despite assurances, land grabs still on

Augustine Mukaro

FRESH land seizures have debunked government’s claims of having completed farm acquisitions as disturbances on the farms continue unabated with owners still fighting legal battles or seeking government intervention to repel the new invaders.

Commercial Farmers Union vice president, Trevor Gifford, and scores of other remaining white farmers from Karoi have become the latest victims of the invasions as new allottees move onto properties, wanting an immediate takeover.

On the other hand Information deputy minister Bright Matonga is being taken to court for forcibly harvesting billions of dollars worth of the soya bean crop planted by a white farmer at Chigwell Estate. The minister alleges the crop belongs to him after he obtained  an offer letter allocating him part of the farm.

In an interview with the Independent, Chigwell Estate owner, Thomas Beattie said Matonga forcibly reaped his soya beans and is threatening to harvest seed maize.

“Matonga has already cut soya beans valued at not less than $20 billion,” Beattie said.

“He is threatening to harvest a seed maize valued at $150 billion which we grew under contract with SeedCo. The threats have forced us to seek an interdict from the courts.”

Beattie’s lawyer Ozias Musamirapamwe of Gula-Ndebele & Associates confirmed that they were taking Matonga to court over the unlawful harvests at the farm but could not give details saying that the matter was before the courts.

“We expect a ruling any time this week so to comment on the matter would be sub judice,” Musamirapamwe said.
Matonga is claiming 793 hectares of Chigwell estate of which 105 hectares is export citrus fruits, 350 hectares irrigable land and the rest already developed arable land.

Beattie said since April last year when Matonga occupied Chigwell Estate, his actions have become increasingly aggressive, often seizing farming inputs stored in the workshop complex, blocking the owner from using his equipment and forcibly moving into his son’s house where he is living without paying water or electricity bills.

“We had again to seek courts intervention to be allowed access to our equipment and farming inputs,” Beattie said.

A High Court order granted in November last year states that: “the applicant (Beattie) is hereby granted full and unfettered use of farming inputs, farm machinery and equipment stored in the workshop complex as long as (he) continues its farming operations on Chigwell Estate.”

The order also states that the dispute over the location of the workshop complex should be referred to the appropriate government department for arbitration.

Chigwell Estate is a consolidation of five farms producing citrus fruits exported to the Middle East, Europe and Russia.

“We are a consolidation of five farms employing around 1 200 people and have a turnover of $50 billion,” Beattie said.

“We are exporting about 300 000 cartons of oranges each year, fetching between US$7 and US$10 per carton.”
Settling at Chigwell farm would now mean that Matonga owns two farms including Mupandaguta Farm in Banket that he violently seized in 2001.

In a twist of irony during the take-over of the 1 500 hectare Mupandaguta Farm, Matonga’s white wife Anne screamed at the Schultz family:  “Get off our land; we are taking back what you stole from our forefathers.”

Anne had moved to Zimbabwe only two weeks before after a lifetime in Britain.

CFU vice president Gifford’s Wolgerhampton Farm became the latest victim of government’s indiscriminate land seizures when it was invaded on Monday.

Gifford previously attracted serious criticism from displaced white farmers after revealing to the media that the CFU was in collaboration with the state to bring back displaced farmers. He jointly issued the statement of his organisation’s collaboration with CFU president Doug Taylor-Freeme.

Observers said the CFU’s appeasement policy had spared most of its top leadership the wrath of the marauding Zanu PF zealots who had been invading farms indiscriminately over the past six years.

In an interview with the Independent on Tuesday, Gifford said an alleged new owner of his property, Thomas Mbanje, accompanied by the local lands officer and a police officer arrived at the farm wanting to take it over.

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