Conservancy owner pleads for Mnangagwa intervention

THE embattled owner of a wildlife conservancy in Beitbridge district, Ian Ferguson, whose family property has been invaded numerous times since 2000, has made an impassioned plea to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to intervene.

By Kudzai Kuwaza

In a letter to Mnangagwa this week, Ferguson said the invasions have cost the two family properties, Denlynian Farm and Benfer Estate, a citrus farm, hundreds of thousand dollars in losses.

A total of 25 000 citrus trees and 5 000 mango trees have been destroyed because of the invasions.

Mananje Conservancy on Denlynian Farm, which is more than 30 kilometres outside Beitbridge on the Bulawayo Road and is home to a variety of animals, which include zebra, impala and a variety of bird species, faces an uncertain future because of the invasions. Production at Benfer Estate has fallen sharply owing to the land invasions.

Ferguson has previously accused Vice-President Kembo Mohadi of orchestrating the raids. He has been locked in running battles with Mohadi’s brother Steve, among other invaders.

The farmer told Mnangagwa the letter was a follow-up to a meeting he held with him in October 2015, when he was vice-president.

“The subject of the meeting was in respect to the family’s 50-year-old citrus farm and a wildlife and ecological conservancy that the family had acquired 31 years previously, which came under threat from the Ministry of Lands officers at district and provincial level who issued offer letters and allocated five heactres plots to whoever wanted a piece of land.

“We had a very amicable meeting the next day after meeting you when the then Minister (Douglas Mombeshora) gave instructions telephonically for the cancellation of the offer letters on the citrus farm but omitted to do so for the family’s wildlife conservancy and said that he would deal with that later.”

He said the offer letters on the citrus farm were officially cancelled with instructions that those allocated were to vacate the property immediately, so as to save citrus trees and mango trees that were in a serious state of wilt.

“It soon became apparent that the occupants who had the cancelled offer letters had no intention of moving and when our attorney enquired from the local lands officer he said that they do not need to get off as their offer letters were going to be reinstated which was complete news to us,” Ferguson told Mnangagwa. “It was subsequently brought to our attention that Kembo Mohadi had taken the cancelled offer letters to the Office of the President and Cabinet as we were shown a letter by the occupants’ attorney in which the secretary of the Cabinet office had referred them to the Ministry of Lands.”

Ferguson said he was extremely concerned at the time and repeatedly pleaded for a meeting with Mombeshora.

He said 15 months after meeting Mnangagwa and Mombeshora, the then minister sent a team of national lands committee members to the citrus farm led by one Mr Dendere, a deputy director. He said Dendere spent over an hour trying to intimidate his son-in-law into sharing the citrus farm with the two occupants on the property “to which he drew a firm refusal”.

Ferguson said although the chairperson of the national lands committee was police Acting Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga, he strangely did not chair or take part in the deliberations as they were entirely conducted by Dendere. He said the committee then went to the conservancy, where their chief warden led them on a tour of the property. The team left the property without saying a word.

He said Dendere’s attitude during the visit was hostile, rude and abrasive.

“It was soon apparent that he was sent down by the minister on a persecution agenda with the national lands committee whose members, including the chairperson, seem to be totally ignorant of what the object of the visit was and of any facts legal and government policy pertaining to the conservancy,” Ferguson wrote.

The whole exercise, he said, was a persecution agenda to completely destroy him and his family. Ferguson said failure to take positive action resulted in 25 000, 18-year-old citrus trees and 5 000 mango trees being destroyed.

He said the committee then claimed that because all the trees were dead, the farm could no longer be regarded as a citrus farm and could therefore not be protected under the cabinet’s decision not to invade citrus farms.

“To make it even worse, it was assumed that the deputy director Mr Dendere, then informed the Ministry of Environment and National Parks that the Conservancy had been redistributed with the result that national parks, we understand on the instructions of the then minister, have been told to refuse the issuance of any hunting permit for the conservancy ,” Ferguson said.

He said the failure to get a permit resulted in the loss of more than US$180 000. Ferguson told Mnangagwa that the Lands officials told the illegal occupants on the conservancy to embark on wholesale clearing of ancient riverine trees and bush in a supposed irrigation project funded by Kuwaitis.

“To me this flies in the face of your authority, as dictated at our original meeting and demonstrates the lack of respect of the executive,” Ferguson said.

“It is hoped that with the change of administration, under your guidance and signature, this would have changed the fortunes for the two properties, but without your personal intervention, we fear that local politics has put paid any possibility from the 20 years of persecution we have experienced.”

Contacted for comment, Ferguson confirmed writing the letter. He said the Office of the President had refused to accept the letter when it was delivered by courier.