Hopes looters will be prosecuted fade

HOPES that the arrest of controversial businessman Temba Mliswa will reignite investigations into the alleged looting of commercial farms by Zanu PF bigwigs under the pretext of land reform are slowly fading, with dispossessed farmers now saying they are opting to sue “chefs” who took their movable property and other personal possessions.

There was excitement among former commercial farmers that the net might be closing in on top Zanu PF officials who looted farms after police arrested and charged Mliswa with fraud and looting farms.

Co-Home Affairs Ministers Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone’s statements that police should investigate anyone irrespective of their rank, position or status in society also rekindled hope that something was finally being done after a decade of lawlessness on the farms.
However, close to a month after Mliswa’s arrest and his continued incarceration at Harare Remand Prison, no attempts have been made to re-open cases or prosecute new ones committed last month.

Weeks after Makone circulated a dossier to senior Home Affairs officials linking top Zanu PF officials and security chiefs who allegedly looted farms and defied High Court orders, information to hand indicates that not much has been done.

Commercial farmers interviewed by the Zimbabwe Independent said although the ministers’ statements and Mliswa’s arrest had raised hopes, they now do not expect anything to come out of it because they were informed by the police when they followed up on their cases that there would not be any arrests or prosecutions related to farm invasions.

However, police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena urged the farmers to make follow-ups on the cases they have reported as there was no policy stating that certain persons were above the law.

“People must pursue their cases. We have a clear procedure when a person makes a report,” he said. “Some of these people want to talk without checking how far investigations would have gone.”

The farmers now believe that their only option to deal with the matters was through suing people who dispossessed them of their possessions because criminal suits have not worked, despite rulings by the High Court for the new farmers to return stolen property or to vacate the occupied farms.
Michael Jahme, who last month lost his farm, Silverton Estate, to Chipinge magistrate Samuel Zuze, Prosper Sithole and Masimba Kamba – a senior officer in the Central Intelligence Organisation –  said he planned to sue the three who were given offer letters.

The three were issued with offer letters despite a memorandum of agreement between Silverton Estate (Pvt) Ltd and the Ministry of Lands in 2002. The two agreed that Lot 8 of Newcastle measuring 314 ha would not be acquired, after Silverton Estate gave government Lot 6 of Newcastle measuring 251 ha for its land reform programme.

“I plan to file a civil case against the people who were given offer letters and also the police in Chipinge who failed to protect us. I want to sue them for loss of income and the assets they took,” he said.

“They have no right to steal our personal property. The land issue is one thing, but the theft of our personal things has nothing to do with the land issue and it is painful to know that none of these people will ever be prosecuted.”

According to a statement to the police by Jahme’s wife, Elsie, she was attacked on June 8 around 1 am by seven men who told her that they had come to take possession of “their” property. This happened when Jahme was away on business in South Africa.

The men left after she told them to come back in the morning, but they later returned with 13 more people, who were armed with various weapons including sticks, steel bars and machetes. The police arrived around 9am and were shown High Court order case number HC 982/2010 handed down by Justice Omerjee, that barred Zuze, Kamba and a A Masona from entering Silverton Estates and taking over possession, control and use of their crops, plantations, livestock, machinery and equipment.

According to the wife’s statement, the police said they were too junior to act but promised to return after consulting their seniors. After the police left, a woman believed to be Zuze’s wife arrived and ordered the farmer to pack her belongings and vacate the property. She had to sign a document stating that she had decided to leave the property on her free will.

The Jahme family lost household property and clothing worth close to US$29 000 and farm equipment, which included a scania lorry, trailer, tractors, electric motors and fuel worth US$865 000.

Meanwhile, the wife of Richard Etheredge of Chegutu, Katherine, who lost their farm, Stockdale Citrus Estate in 2009, and movable property to president of the Senate Ednah Madzongwe, wrote in an open letter to her that: “You believe that all we have worked for is yours. We have been forced off Stockdale with absolutely nothing. My sons and their families are homeless – they are living with friends, taking turns to spend a week at a time with them. We have nowhere to go.”

She said household furniture and goods from three complete homesteads, clothing and licensed firearms valued at US$500 000 were looted from the farm.
“We walked off that farm with the clothes we stood up in,” said Etheredge. “Also there were tractors, trailers and all our farm equipment. We estimate the stolen farm equipment to be around US$1 million,” she said.

Etheredge, who together with her husband now reside at a retirement village, said they lost 600 tonnes of export oranges.
This was done despite having a High Court Order case number HC 317/07 authorising the Etheredges to remain on the farm until lawfully ordered to vacate by a court.  

Richard Etheredge was arrested in 2007, together with eight other farmers in Chegutu, for illegally staying on farms but later acquitted.
Etheredge is one of the farmers that took the Zimbabwe government to the Sadc Tribunal.

While another farmer, Bruce Campbell, of Mount Carmel Farm has accused Zanu PF politburo member Nathan Shamuyarira of looting tractors worth US$588 000, reaping mangoes, oranges, maize, sunflower and other crops in 2009 worth US 263 000, fertiliser worth US$22 000, loss of income for 2010 cropping season US$410 000 and for the houses and goods a total of US$481 000.

This was done despite the Campbells having High Court orders HC 162/09 dated April 20 2009 and another, HC 1751/09, stating that Shamuyarira should vacate the farms.

Faith Zaba