The future of one of Beitbridge’s leading citrus producers, Benfer Estate, hangs in the balance after invaders ignored a court order to vacate the farm claiming that a powerful minister was behind the illegal occupation.
BY STAFF REPORTER
Benfer, which is owned by former government irrigation specialist Ian Ferguson, has been under siege for some time after an invasion led by a Harare-based Dalton Muleya and another man identified only as N. Nyathi or Tsepang.
The two have defied a government order to leave the property after Cabinet last year declared citrus farms as “non-resettlement zones”.
“The main illegal occupants, Dalton Muleya and N. Nyathi, aka Tsepang have defied the Ministry of Lands orders as well as court orders and continued to occupy the land and have aggressively pursued anyone who dared to enter the main citrus tree orchards,” Ferguson said.
“Without being able to farm, 20 000 citrus and 10 000 mango trees have now died due to drought.
“The lawyer defending these invaders has indicated verbally that a certain minister and the president’s Office were reviewing the cancellation of the offer letters and [they]would be reinstated to them in the near future.
“A senior minister was seen visiting this section of the farm on one occasion.
“There has been some serious asset stripping i.e. a large balance dam liner stolen as well as spares off a large plough, stolen all the electric cables, all worth thousands of dollars to the irrigation motors and [they have] chopped trees for fencing.”
A Beitbridge magistrate court recently ordered the eviction of Nyathi and Muleya, but police have reportedly refused to provide the messenger of court with escort.
“Notices were served on them by the messenger of court which they have totally ignored and in fact, Nyathi in particular has increased the number of his staff and illegal activities on the section he is occupying,” Ferguson said.
“They are cutting trees down to improve the boundary fencing as they say they will be planting crops soon which will be under dry land cropping.
“A person by the name of Takalani who is either an ex or still employed by Agritex has arrived to help them peg out these proposed lands.”
“Unfortunately, the police in Beitbridge refused to provide the messenger of court with an escort as they said that a directive issued by the commissioner of police [Augustine Chihuri] to the effect that all court orders with regard to the physical removal of illegal occupants of commercial farms were to be ignored and that any officer who did render any assistance to a sheriff or a messenger of court for the physical removal would face ‘serious disciplinary action,’” he added.
The government last year declared that the land reform programme was over and threatened to forcibly remove people that had settled on farms illegally.