FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe, who has grabbed the iconic Mazowe Dam and large tracts of land in the scenic Mazowe valley, has imposed an unofficial curfew in the area.
By Wongai Zhangazha/Elias Mambo
This comes amid revelations Mashonaland Central Provincial Affairs minister Martin Dinha tried to placate villagers and cover up the dam-grabbing scandal last weekend with fishing permits.
Chairperson of Arnold (Manzou) Farm Residents’ Association Innocent Dube told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that police and a hired mob of youth militia loyal to Grace were arresting, detaining and fining people for moving around at night or early in the morning within the dam vicinity.
Dube also confirmed villagers were being stopped from fishing in Mazowe Dam at the behest of the First Family despite misleading remarks and denials by Dinha this week.
“The curfew starts late in the night from around 10pm up until 4am in the early hours of the following morning. If one is caught walking around at that time they are either detained or forced to pay a bribe of US$2. The people who carry out these curfews will either be the police from the Support Unit or youth militia whose base is at Manzou Farm compound,” Dube said. “We have so many reports of people who have been detained. We believe it is Amai (Grace) who ordered the curfew because it is being implemented by police officers manning the boom gate and people who work at her dairy farm.”
Dube said restrictions and trespassing warnings have been placed around Mazowe Dam and mountains in the area, depriving villagers of their constitutional rights, especially that of freedom of movement.
The Independent reporters saw the signposts last week. They also visited the dam and surrounding areas this week to further confirm the story.
Dube’s home, like the homesteads of hundreds other villagers who settled on Manzou Farm in 2000, was reduced to ashes after armed police officers torched homes in March, as they forced people to move out of the farm to pave way for Grace to establish a game park.
He and a handful of other villagers have stayed put on the farm courtesy of a High Court order that stopped the unlawful evictions after the intervention of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
“We are being treated as if we are not Zimbabweans. We were used for nothing. We were the first people to occupy this place from the white farmer (during the land reform programme). Tisu takaita jambanja (we are the ones who wreaked havoc and took over the farm). Today we are being chased away like dogs. We and our children are sleeping in the open; in the cold; in such a freezing winter. Handityi kutaura zvatosangana nazvo, kusiri kufa ndekupi? (I am not afraid to say what we are going through; I have nothing to lose after all),” said Dube.
“We do not have any permanent homes; anything that we put up is destroyed. Thus we are not able to grow anything for a sustained period of time. The dam was providing fish or relish to villagers but now we have been banned from going there and we are stranded. Some were also surviving on selling fish by the roadside. But now during the day the dam area is guarded; we are not sure whether the guards are park officials or security agents.”
Villagers said the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) officials moved onto the dam over the weekend — after the Independent story. Mazowe residents said Dinha met locals last Saturday and urged them to apply for permits for them to be allowed to fish from the dam as a cover-up for the dam seizure.
“Dinha said only seven permits will be issued and that it costs US$200 to apply for a permit, which we consider to be too high and unaffordable. It’s a smart way of chasing us away,” one villager said. “Despite the US$200 which is very expensive, Zimparks has also stated that it will come to vet the kind of tools and nets that we use. This is a tough condition because we do not use sophisticated nets and boats. We use our traditional hand-made nets and boats. It’s clear they don’t want us at the dam anymore.”
Villagers insisted the dam has been privatised through the back door. 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.
Grace’s Mazowe empire already includes an opulent three-storey mansion on Mapfeni Farm, which can be seen from Manzou Farm 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.