By Mike Clark
I REFER to the article “Police, war vets surrender loot”, (Standard, March 5), which has prompted me to shed some light on this rather sensitive and extremely serious matter.
Firstly, I wish to comment and thank the majority of our po
lice force for their dedicated efforts in defending the laws of our country, particularly during these extremely difficult and unsettling times.
I would also like to take this opportunity of applauding those war veterans who showed their respect for law and order by refusing to obey instructions to demonstrate against the court orders last week.
However, as the article pointed out, Masvingo province went through some of its darkest hours during early November 2005 when a huge team of armed police, army, prisons and local government departments descended on some 18 properties in a convoy of six police and army vehicles to confiscate farming equipment. This was at a time when our nation was desperately short of both fuel and food.
Perhaps the author’s description of “looting” is far more appropriate because the government has never compensated anyone for the equipment, nor has any valuation or offer been made as is required in the Acquisition of Farm Equipment or Material Act — Act 7/2004.
Furthermore, most of the equipment was actively being used in either farming operations while some was contracted out to assist many new farmers with their projects. Several units which were actually preparing land were called in and delivered to the police stations.
The Acquisition of Farm Equipment or Material Act clearly states that the acquisition only refers to equipment which is not being actively used for agricultural purposes. Any objections to any proposed acquisitions are also required to be heard in the Administrative Court to confirm the acquisition within a prescribed period.
The farmers who had lost literally trillions of dollars worth of equipment appealed to the Masvingo authorities but to no avail and therefore had to seek protection from the High Court of Zimbabwe, at great personal expense.
This resulted in five different judges who had presided over seven separate cases coming up with the unanimous decision that the seizure of the equipment was illegal. Loveness Ndanga was ordered to return her loot within a specified period which apparently expired last December.
So far, the equipment has not been returned to its rightful owners as was suggested in the article. Some has been sold, auctioned or dispersed in apparent defiance of the court orders.
An apparent dispute over the stolen equipment was reported in the media a few weeks ago where a senior war veteran was reported as complaining that the police and provincial hierarchy had received the bulk of the equipment, leaving them (war veterans) with very little.
Perhaps he should not complain because as far as I am aware, the receipt of stolen property is still a crime in Zimbabwe.
Although some equipment was left behind at the police stations and apparently a (very) few items have been returned there, the rightful owners or their representatives have been denied access to record it.
There is also an apparent attempt to prejudice those who could not afford to seek protection from the courts. They have apparently been informed that only the equipment belonging to those described as uncontested in court orders may have their equipment returned.
Normally, police should have investigated the non-compliance of the uncontested court orders but it was left to the rightful owners to again be placed in the unenviable position where they were forced to appeal to the courts for further assistance.
Their case against a senior police officer for alleged contempt is unprecedented in our country’s history and is presently sub judice, and can therefore not be commented on.
All this comes at a very crucial time in our history where very sensitive ongoing discussions are taking place to resolve the present impasse. I obviously cannot comment on the political discussions except that agricultural initiatives are far advanced and encouraging.
While our hungry country is crying out for investment in sustainable agriculture, how can anyone in their right state of mind consider any meaningful investment, especially in a province where the rule of law is now under such intense scrutiny following the illegal seizure of farm equipment by a team which was headed by a senior police officer?
Why was the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s Aspef facility, which offers preferential interest rates not used instead?
We appeal to the authorities that criminal acts against us no longer be classified as “political” to defend the alleged perpetrators as well as to respect valid court orders.
Instead, it is strongly suggested that any interference with vital agricultural production should rather be termed “economic sabotage” and investigated accordingly, no matter whom the perpetrators may be.
We are proud to be Zimbabweans and appeal for the lifting of the unfortunate political mantle which has relegated us to being treated as “public enemy number one” for the past six years.
We are also appealing for a speedy return of our equipment which was accumulated over many seasons and remain the most important tools of our trade, without which our farming ability is severely prejudiced.
* Clark is CFU Masvingo Regional Executive
By Mike Clark