CONTINUED resistance by resettled villagers to vacate a National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) farm in Matabeleland South has frustrated a joint agribusiness partnership between the insolvent parastatal and an agro-processing firm, PKD Malindi.
This emerged as the Zimbabwe Land Commission — set up by government last year to investigate controversies surrounding state land occupation — has also washed its hands of the dispute, which has dragged on for almost 15 years.
Interestingly, the matter has resurfaced at a time the moribund rail operator is scouting for investment partners and is smarting from a major setback involving a rail rehabilitation deal with Transnet of South Africa and the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group which spectacularly collapsed amid corruption allegations.
In a November 2019 letter to villagers and PKD Malinidi, one P Chamunorwa, who was the acting general manager (legal services) of the Land Commission, said they would not be investigating the Woolendale Farm issue, where over 150 “illegal” settlers have established a village.
“Section 9 ( 3)(b)(i) of the Land Commission Act provides that the commission shall not investigate a complaint or dispute where the action or omission to which the complaint or dispute relates is the subject matter of proceedings before any court of competent jurisdiction.
“Kindly be advised that the commission is unable to handle the matter since it was handled before High Court of Zimbabwe case number HH 289/2009 and has been decided by the court. Your case with us has thus been dismissed by the commission on the said grounds,” Chamunorwa wrote.
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 villagers then appealed against, leading to the matter being stayed. 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 would never be evicted.
The owner of PKD Malindi, Phathakahle Dube, a Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) ex-combatant, said he will now be taking further legal action on the matter as he believes he has strong grounds to be on the land, including certificates from the Deeds Office and the Finance ministry.
He is also seeking to recover the money he invested in the agricultural project which was supposed to take off after he signed the contract with the NRZ in 2003.
“Since we got that contract we have not done anything on the land because of this dispute. We had also benefitted from Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe programmes and we need to produce,” Dube said.
“At the same time, we have been getting contrasting statements from the NRZ with the corporate services department telling us that our joint venture no longer exists while the other management has confirmed that it is still binding. But what we want is for those illegal settlers to leave so that we can start utilising the land.”
Dube says the settlers’ refusal to vacate Woolendale Farm, measuring 1 264 hectares, has stalled an ambitious agricultural project by PKD Malindi, the agro-processing firm that leased the property from the NRZ.
In response to summons by the Land Commission, the villagers said they approached the office of Vice-President Kembo Mohadi and the local Member of Parliament to seek political recourse on the matter.
“Upon advice, the villagers met the Matabeleland South provincial chief lands officer, a Mr Dodzi, who dealt with the matter. We were assured the matter has been resolved. We are at loss as to why the issue has now resurfaced at the Zimbabwe Land Commission office in Harare when the same issue was dealt with by the same office in Matabeleland,” chairperson of the villagers Joseph Mguza Sibanda said in May 2019.
“Also puzzling is that all due processes were followed by the Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement in the acquisition, gazetting of the farm and resettlement of the affected villagers. We are convinced that if there was an issue with or dispute concerning the acquisition of the farm it should not be directed at Joshua Ndlovu and others, the resettled villagers, but to the minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, who is the acquiring authority.”
The villagers, who were resettled in 2001, also argued that they have invested substantially by settling on the farm and have contributed to the development of the area. In 1999, the NRZ floated a tender for a joint venture project on 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 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. 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, as well as several former and current serving ministers to push for the eviction of the families, but without success. Dube said he was also engaging President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration to assist in the matter.
“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 reads.