Vincent Kahiya/Augustine Mukaro
AS the government steps up its seizure of all productive farmland, police were on Tuesday sent in to Kondozi Farm in Odzi which has been the target of ministerial threats.
Over Easter MP Roy Bennett’s Charleswood Farm in Chimanimani was occupied by the army. The government announced this week that it was acquiring 49 sugar estates in the Lowveld which form part of Hippo Valley Estates.
A humanitarian crisis is looming in the Odzi area after riot police and Zanu PF supporters kicked more than 5 000 farm workers and their families off the export-based Kondozi Farm.
The raid came a week after Information Minister Jonathan Moyo threatened “decisive and final corrective measures” on Kondozi despite a high court ruling in the owners’ favour.
The desperate situation at Kondozi has touched the hearts of chiefs in Manicaland who yesterday met Vice-President Joseph Msika to express their displeasure at the eviction of the workers.
A 70-member delegation made up of 28 chiefs and their headmen was at Munhumutapa Building yesterday seeking a reversal of the Kondozi evictions.
Sources close to the deliberations said the chiefs demanded that the lucrative Kondozi estate should revert to the current owners led by Edwin Moyo. The chiefs are also said to have expressed displeasure at the treatment of displaced farm workers and their families.
The Zimbabwe Independent on Wednesday visited Odzi which was a scene of desolation as the evicted workers, including children and the elderly, sat on the roadside after being kicked off the farm by Zanu PF youths, riot police and officials from Arda.
As the hundreds of workers gathered at Odzi business centre and along the road to Mapembe with their life’s possessions, mostly crockery and rickety furniture, riot police wielding AK-47 assault rifles patrolled the area.
Farm workers who spoke to the Independent said police beat them with rubber truncheons while children and the infirm were trampled in the melée.
As other farm workers loaded their possessions onto farm trailers to unknown destinations, Mbuya Bhurandi, who is lame, could only watch in confusion the scenes unfolding around her. She can no longer walk but has been living on a small pension from the farm. She was forced out of the farm compound and dumped on the roadside near Fakamoto Store with her bundle of clothing, a metal drum and two blankets.
Meanwhile, government trucks and police vehicles made regular trips from the direction of Mutare to Kondozi where a guard told the Independent that Arda had taken over.
“Arda is already operating the business,” the guard said. “Arda personnel have taken over and are reaping the sweet corn and packaging other products preparing it for export as well as local markets. But for more details you can go to the main gate,” the security guard said.
Riot policemen at the main gate refused the Independent entry into the Kondozi business operations area.
“You need to get clearance from the governor before we can allow you in,” one police officer said after five minutes of scrutinising our reporter’s accreditation card.
On Tuesday morning police announced through loud hailers that those who wanted to work for Arda should register by yesterday. If they failed to do so that would be forced out of their homes. The deadline was later moved forward to Tuesday 12 noon when evictions began.
“The workers are not willing to work for Arda because they are aware that the parastatal is in financial problems,” one worker who identified himself as Mapombere said.
“Arda is proving to be a failure in its Transaau Nursery Estate next door to us here. It’s failing to pay its workers who sometimes get meat and mealie-meal rations instead of money. For us to commit ourselves to work for such an organisation would be disastrous,” he said.
Kondozi farm was at the centre of controversy on Christmas Eve when Agriculture minister Joseph Made, Transport minister Christopher Mushohwe, and Arda CEO Joseph Motovanyika together with Arda employees occupied the farm. The property is registered as an EPZ and has a turnover of US$15 million and employs around 5 000 workers.
The Independent heard that Kondozi management approached the Red Cross for food and accommodation for the farm workers but it has been prevented from helping out by the Manicaland provincial administrator.
Moyo said last week that “action must and will be taken in the national interest to ensure Arda gets on with the business of making that farm more productive”.