A HIGH Court judge, Ben Hlatshwayo, who reportedly lost a farm to First Lady Grace Mugabe in 2008, has occupied part of an estate in Mashonaland West owned by Ariston Holdings, a company listed on the local bourse.
Hlatshwayo has taken over 800 hectares of the 4 500-hectare Kent Estate, which specialises in roses, poultry and livestock. The area the judge is occupying has a school and several valuable fixed assets.
Impeccable sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that Hlatshwayo moved onto the farm late last year and negotiations between Ariston and the judge to reverse the occupation have yielded nothing.
The judge’s occupation of the estate, the sources said, had the backing of a senior government official after he lost Gwina Farm in Banket, which he had acquired in December 2002 during the controversial land reform programme, to the president’s wife.
The First Lady reportedly used her firm, Gushungo Holdings, to force Hlatshwayo off Gwina Farm near Mugabe’s rural home.
Hlatshwayo was not reachable for comment last night.
“The judge has occupied the horticultural group’s premier plantation with the help of a senior government official,” one of the sources said. “He also has the backing of other senior government officials who have said the issue of the judge has been solved after he lost Gwina Farm.”
But the occupation comes after Ariston resettled indigenous farmers on part of the 4 500-hectare farm a few years ago.
Ariston managing director Kumbirai Katsande yesterday declined to comment on the matter.
The sources said before Hlatshwayo occupied the estate, he had identified and failed to occupy two farms in Mashonaland West and a third in Mashonaland East. Senior politicians in the respective provinces reportedly blocked him from taking over the farms.
Last year, after being elbowed off Gwina Farm, the former University of Zimbabwe law lecturer took the case to the High Court and accused Gushungo Holdings of using political muscle to wrest the property from him.
In court papers, Hlatshwayo reportedly said the “unlawful conduct” by Gushungo Holdings amounted to spoliation — or taking the farm by force.
It was reported he claimed that the first family was sending emissaries to the farm and issuing instructions to workers.
Hlatshwayo said there was “clearly no lawful basis for such interference, which conduct, by its very nature, amounts to spoliation”.
Constantine Chimakure / Chris Muronzi