FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe is continuing to expand her vast empire in the scenic Mazowe area of Mashonaland Central province; this time by grabbing the state-owned iconic Mazowe Dam — almost a century after it was built — and surrounding tracts of land.
By Wongai Zhangazha/Elias Mambo
This has escalated her bitter fights with local villagers who are now barred from using the huge dam which she wants to privatise.
Grace’s Mazowe empire already includes an opulent double-storey mansion on Mapfeni Farm, which can be seen from Manzou Farm from where she has been evicting thousands of villagers since 2011 to establish a game park.
There is also a dairy farm, orphanage and a school. She is planning to build a university. Grace has also grabbed land which belonged to the former Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed agro-producer Interfresh’s Mazowe Citrus Estate.
The Mugabe family reportedly has more than 10 farms, becoming part of the new land aristocracy ushered in by government’s chaotic land reform programme which began in 2000. Mazowe Dam, the country’s 16th largest reservoir, has a capacity of 39,35 million cubic metres of water and was 99,9% full as of June 12, according to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa).
Grace’s latest move has infuriated villagers, some of whom earned a living through fishing and other activities around there.
Sporting and recreational activities such as rowing, sailing and canoeing, which were popular at the dam, have also been banned following the acquisition of the dam by President Robert Mugabe’s wife three weeks ago.
Armed police officers are now guarding the dam to keep away villagers and other people. Official sources said Grace in February stopped Zinwa officials from inspecting a crack on the dam wall, saying she will bring in Chinese engineers to fix the problem. The Chinese have helped to fund and build her Mazowe empire.
The seizure and effective privatisation of the dam is unlawful. The Water Act stipulates that water should not be privatised, although its Section 3 says “all water is vested in the President”, suggesting Mugabe could have granted permission to his wife to take over the dam.
Section 4 of the Act states that there should be no private ownership of water.
“No person shall be entitled to ownership of any water in Zimbabwe and no water shall be stored, abstracted, apportioned, controlled, diverted, used or in any way dealt with except in accordance with this Act. (2) Subject to this Act, a permit issued in terms of this Act shall confer upon its holder a right to the use of water in accordance with the permit,” it says.
This makes Grace’s move illegal, although the clause indicating Mugabe is the final authority on water leaves the issue open to a different albeit controversial interpretation.
A Zimbabwe Independent team which visited Mazowe on Tuesday found the dam deserted, while a police officer brandishing an AK-47 rifle was guarding the dam wall.
The First Lady’s moves come on the backdrop of illegal evictions of villagers at Manzou Farm and grabbing of land which belonged to Interfresh.
Grace has a double-storey mansion on Mapfeni Farm. The house, which has two granite block conical towers similar to the Great Zimbabwe towers standing either side of the gate, is surrounded by picturesque scenery of rolling mountains and thick vegetation, including tall musasa and mopani trees. With lush green lawns, a state-of-the-art swimming pool and underground parking facilities, the double storey mansion blends perfectly with nature.
Not far from the dam’s vicinity, Grace constructed the posh Grace Mugabe Junior School at a cost of US$7 million.
The school is built on a 7 720-square metre plot and features 27 classrooms, a library, an art room, music room, computer room and auxiliary equipment rooms.
The institution has four classes with 24 pupils each from Grade 1 to 7 and caters for orphans drawn from the Grace Mugabe Children’s Home. This week villagers told the Independent Grace also took over the mountains surrounding the dam. The news crew saw newly erected signposts warning villagers against trespassing.
“About three weeks ago, we were told to stop fishing in the dam by some people who said they were acting on behalf of Amai (Grace). The people also put some fish in the dam and we are assuming she wants to start a fish farming business,” one villager told the Independent.
“We were told to stop fishing in the dam without any notice and, since then, police and security agents, including some in plain clothes, have been roaming around to monitor the dam and surrounding areas. We were warned that anyone who violated the order would be arrested. This is really bad and painful because some of us depend on fishing as a means of livelihood.”
Villagers also said Grace gave an order that mountains near the orphanage and the dam should not be used for prayer purposes by members of a local apostolic sect.
Mazowe Dam was built across the Mazowe River in 1918 — almost a century ago — to irrigate citrus plantations and crops.
Questions sent to Zinwa public relations manager Marjorie Munyonga on Wednesday were not responded to by the time of going to print.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, custodian of wild animals including fish, did not respond to questions as well. Efforts to get a comment from Mashonaland Central Provincial Affairs minister Martin Dinha and Mugabe’s family were fruitless.