A FRESH wave of farm takeovers facilitated by government has intensified under the guise of trimming farm sizes, sparking fears of a renewed assault on white farmers, who feel besieged and are now rushing to court for legal recourse.
Kudzai Kuwaza/Bridget Mananavire
Marondera farmer David Tippett yesterday filed an urgent High Court application against government, as he resists a 90-day ultimatum to vacate his 337-hectare Remaining Extent of Magar Farm, which is within the 500 ha maximum farm size for that region. The farming enterprise is a multi-million dollar exporter of essential oils, fine cut grass and tobacco.
He argues the farm grab will result in the termination of international commercial contracts which generate much-needed foreign currency and would lead to the loss of nearly 200 jobs. They have contracts with companies in South Africa, the United Kingdom and some European Union countries.
In his urgent application heard yesterday by Justice Owen Tagu and argued by his lawyer Andrea Dracos of Honey and Blanckenberg legal practitioners, Tippett said the decision by Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri to withdraw his offer letter to make way for brothers Munyaradzi and Tendai Hunzvi is ultra vires Section 23, as read with Section 17 of the Land Commission Act.
The two brothers are the sons of the late Chenjerai Hunzvi, former leader of the war veterans, a controversial and key figure in the 2000 invasions of white owned farms.
Shiri, Tippett argues, violated the law by not consulting the Land Commission and President Emmerson Mnangagwa before making the decision. Shiri, Munyaradzi and Tendai are cited as the first, second and third respondents respectively.
Tippett, his brother Stuart John Tippett and their agricultural company Essen Oils Company are the first, second and third applicants respectively. Justice Tagu reserved judgement.
“The decision of the first respondent to withdraw the offer letters is grossly irrational in that it ignores material recommendations that were made by the Land Commission to the effect that the first and second applicants’ offer letters must not be withdrawn and second and third respondents be given land elsewhere,” Tippett said in his court papers.
Tippet pointed out that the decision to withdraw the letters is based on the ongoing land audit, which is meant to foster increased agricultural production, yet the farm grab would effectively bring to an end the farm’s niche agricultural production.
Tippett said the 90-day ultimatum to vacate the farm is “grossly unreasonable and substantially unfair” in that they are still harvesting and cannot effectively commence winding up since they need machinery in the harvesting process.
“The decision of the first respondent is grossly unreasonable and substantively unfair in that it gives a ninety-day notice to vacate the property in circumstances where the country is under an indefinite national lockdown due to Covid-19 and further on in circumstances where it is not legally permissible to move from one place to another,” Tippett argued.
“The decision of the first respondent to withdraw the offer letter and give land to second and third respondents reflects a clear disfavour of applicant’s and consequently a favour to the respondents, who have been desirous of taking occupation of the property as far back as 2008.”
In his founding affidavit, Tippett revealed that Munyaradzi and Tendai Hunzvi have been occupying a portion of the property, which includes the farmhouse, through their agent Tedious Bhobho.
Tippett said they had offered 1 625 hectares to the government in 2002 in pursuit of the land reform programme on the expectation that they would, in return, stay put on the remaining land, which is Magar Farm.
Tippett said he had identified Perceyvale Farm in Macheke for purposes of affording the Hunzvis a farm, but to no avail. Tippett said on June 26 they were approached by Shiri’s representatives, who handed them notices of withdrawal. They were then given an offer letter for a farm, but without explanation or directions as to where the offered property is situated.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, Tippett said he had invested about US$2 million, which he now stands to lose without compensation.“You can’t take plantations away because they have been there for 20 to 30 years and how am I supposed to remove them and put them somewhere else? Since 2017, the Hunzvi boys have been out there maybe a dozen times and they normally come out on a weekend,” he said.
“I had pumped in about US$2 million in infrastructure, irrigation scheme, it’s all immovable property, plus I had redone the house, I spent more than US$80 000 redoing the house, I had made it my home. What happens to that? At least compensate me for the developments I have done. We were contributing half a million United States dollars every year in export earnings on the oil side and another half a million on the tobacco side.”
Contacted for comment, Lands minister Shiri said he would have to go through the files before he can make an informed and factual response on the processes. “I would need to look at the files to see the conditions of those cases you mentioned. Then I can gladly respond and give you the correct position,” he said.
Munyaradzi Hunzvi, through his lawyer Walter Bverevende, said he had not grabbed the farm but had an offer letter. “It is not correct that the farm was grabbed. Munyaradzi has an offer letter from 2017. It is just that the name on the offer letter was changed from his mother’s to his after she passed away on 14 December 2018.”
“The Tippett brothers have been preventing him from being productive on the farm that we had to get a court order to stop that,” he said.
Other farmers facing similar evictions told the Independent they preferred not to divulge information on the situation on their farms, as they did not want to disturb ongoing processes.
There are several other processes to evict white farmers from their land around the Marondera and Macheke areas, with some farmers receiving 48 hour-notices to vacate the farms.
Another affected farmer is Phil Frost of Lot 1 of Subdivision 7 of Winimbi Estates, an exporter of flowers. The 45-hectare farm is in Marondera, with 15 hectares classified as arable land under agro-ecological region two.
“There have been disturbances at the farm for a long time now, and this time Edwin Samuriwo is the one claiming the land to be his. I made a lot of investments and even contributed to the Kushinga Phikelela Agriculture College. A partner put a centre pivot to train students on commercial agriculture and infrastructure.”
Another targeted property is Dave Palmer’s Journey’s End Farm in Macheke. The 750-hectare farms is classified under agro-ecological region three, with 150 hectares categorised as arable.
Tippett was ordered to vacate his family home where he grew up in November 2017. The house is situated in front of a dam — their source of water which they stand to lose as it is now part of the Hunzvis’ land. They also stand to lose 60% of their agricultural produce which was farmed on the land they are losing.
“The day I had to vacate my house, I was devastated. It is one of those days when you think you are going to lose everything because your whole life is your family, your belongings and your home,” Tippett said.
“It’s a heart-wrenching feeling. We were given 48 hours. They have been doing that to a lot of farmers here. They give you very little time to pack your bags. My wife was in tears and my kids also. You just cannot describe the feeling of losing something that you have worked so hard for, especially when you have been given the surety that it is not going to be taken away from you with an offer letter. Offer letters, like a 99-year lease, are supposed to give you security of tenure and it doesn’t. It’s heart wrenching,” he added.