OVER 150 illegal settlers backed by some top Zanu PF Matabeleland South politicians are resisting eviction from a National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ)-owned farm along the Bulawayo-Plumtree highway that they invaded at the height of the fast-track land reform programme in 2000.
The settlers’ refusal to vacate Woolendale Farm, measuring 1 264 hectares, has stalled an ambitious agricultural project by PKD Malindi, an agro-processing firm that leased the property from the NRZ in 2003.
PKD Malindi is owned by Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zpra) ex-combatant, Phathakahle Dube.
In 1999, the NRZ floated a tender for a joint venture project at the farm which was subsequently won by PKD Malindi. However, the agreement was only signed in 2003 for an initial period of five years subject to a further renewal upon agreement by both parties. PKD Malindi has, however, failed to kick-start its cattle breeding, poultry production, market gardening and dog training project owing to the settlers’ refusal to vacate the property despite a High Court ruling. In 2005, Justice Nicholas Ndou ordered the eviction of the settlers to end the wrangle pitting the NRZ and PKD Malindi on one hand and the families who settled on the farm on the other.
Subsequent eviction notices have been largely ignored by the families.
“The Deputy Sheriff has failed to evict them on several occasions. Just last week, the settlers engaged lawyers to stop their eviction after a writ of eviction. Their refusal to vacate the property has sabotaged this agro-project,” Dube told Zimbabwe Independent in an interview.
In November 2005, the NRZ torched houses belonging to the settlers to force them to vacate the property, but in the process attracted the wrath of then Matabeleland South Governor Angeline Masuku.
Masuku at the time declared that the settlers will never be evicted.
The settlers are now represented by prominent lawyer Welshman Ncube who confirmed a planned eviction of the families has been stopped.
“They approached us to represent them ,but they had no paperwork; they had virtually nothing and upon checking records at the High Court we discovered that lawyers that used to represent them in this case are now representing PKD Malindi,” Ncube said.
“Their files are with those lawyers . . .we raised an issue of conflict of interest with those lawyers and asked them to consider withdrawing their eviction notice given the conflict of interest in the dispute. That is where we are now.”
According to correspondence, Dube has, despite the court ruling, engaged senior government officials, including the late vice-presidents Joseph Msika and John Nkomo.
He also engaged former deputy president Phelekezela Mphoko, several former and current serving ministers to push for the eviction of the families, but without success.
“In order to resolve the matter, the Honourable VP Msika called for a meeting in September 2007 which was also attended by the Governor of Matabeleland South (Masuku). The meeting made the following resolutions: – that the governor will assist in the removal of the settlers to allow the joint ventures to progress. At this stage, we are not privy to the reasons why the Matabeleland South governor has not been able to remove the illegal settlers as directed by the Hon VP,” one document says.