For a while Tapiwa Daisi believed he would breathe his last on April 7.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
It was the day a group of armed plain-clothed and uniformed police officers descended on Arnold Farm in Mazowe.
Daisi, a father of five, remembers that it was 9am when he noticed a fire at his neighbours’ homestead and rushed to check if no one was in danger.
He found the homestead deserted and to his shock, a few minutes later he realised that his own homestead was on fire.
“I rushed there in the company of my uncle,” Daisi recalls.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw as I arrived. The plain-clothed officers were assaulting my wife and 15-year-old daughter with open hands, booted feet and switches.
“I cried out loud asking why they wanted to destroy my family.
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“That is when the men said the person they wanted was me. They started assaulting me indiscriminately using wooden sticks, booted feet and open hands.
“The assault took quite some time but fellow villagers couldn’t come to my rescue because of fear.
“We all cried but they kept on assaulting us. Later on they tied my hands with a rope.”
Daisi, who occupied the plot he got at the height of the land reform programme in 2000, stayed with two other family members that helped him with farming activities.
He now stays in a shack on a roadside after his two houses at the plot were burnt down by the police officers. He is among tens of families that have been evicted from the farm in Mazowe in the last few weeks to make way for first lady Grace Mugabe, according to reports.
Daisi said after the assault, the police officers said they were taking him and his wife to meet President Robert Mugabe and his wife.
“I thought we were going to see the president and his wife but along the way the police officers constantly threatened that they could easily kill me by throwing me into Mazowe Dam,” he recalls.
“But after we had passed the dam they said they could shoot me and nothing would happen to them.
“Instead, they took us to the police station where one officer shouted at the policemen, saying they were supposed to bring people in body bags, not prisoners.”
Daisi thanked his gods when he was taken to Bindura General Hospital after human rights lawyers came to his rescue.
He said his whole body was swollen. Daisi and his daughter later sought treatment at a private hospital in Harare.
It is the grotesque torture and intimidation that has left families at the disputed farm on the edge.
When The Standard visited the farm recently, about 50 families had gathered outside Arnold Farm, along the Harare-Bindura highway.
The villagers convened an urgent meeting in the bush shortly after “law enforcers” had demolished houses, set livestock on different directions and assaulted a number of villagers.
“Three people, the husband, wife and child, have been badly beaten for refusing to leave their homestead even after everything they had was destroyed,” said one of the victims.
“They were taken to the police station but we hear the husband has lost one eye.”
The anger against Mugabe and his wife was evident as the villagers narrated their ordeal.
“How can people with more than 10 farms do this to us? When we fought for this country we all wanted to benefit and not to enrich one person,” lamented another victim.
“They will kill us here, we are not going anywhere,” another villager shouted as the news crew was being taken to one of the destroyed homesteads.
The villagers said they had been at the farm for about 17 years, having settled there in 2000 during the violent land invasions. Arnold Farm used to be a game park. The first lady first showed interest in the property in 2009.
“We came here in 2000 after the president told us to settle on the farms.
“We stayed here until 2012 without any problem until they [law enforcers] came to tell us that we were not allowed to stay here anymore and they were going to look for alternative land for us,” said Jairos Mativenge.
“They wanted to give us very small pieces of land but we rejected them and stayed put at the farm.
“We said the government cannot do this to us because we deserve to be given adequate land, just like other people who were relocated since 1980.”
In 2014, Mativenge said police again demolished their homes in another bid to force them out.
“In 2015 they did the same. Now it’s 2017 and they are telling us to leave and they are beating us and destroying our houses, property and fields,” he said.
Robert Magora said their experience had left many wondering if Zimbabwe was a free country.
“We ask ourselves are we really Zimbabweans just like any other citizen of this country or we are aliens,” he said.
“If they think we are aliens, let them take us to those countries where we came from?
“The unfair part is that we are making Zanu PF win elections but after the resounding win, they chase us like baboons.
“Right now we don’t have anywhere to sleep and our children are being affected and mothers are giving birth right in the forest.”
Magora added: “If they say we came from Korea let them take us there and stop treating us like baboons that stay in mountains.
“This is Zimbabwe where our brothers, sisters and relatives contributed during the liberation struggle.
“This is not the Zimbabwe that we fought for.”
Sarudzai Muriro said the first family had many big farms in the area and evicting poor people from their plots was being heartless.
“Their daughter is now getting land ahead of those who fought for this country,” she said before listing some of the farms that allegedly belong to the first family.
“Police officers are telling us that this is not what they were taught at the Morris Depot,” she added.
“Truckloads of police officers come from Bindura to harass people who are settled here peacefully. When we try to engage the police officers, they say they are just following orders.”
Muriro said they could not report the harassment for fear of victimisation.
“The majority of those who come here are not uniformed. They are telling us that we will not be able to harvest our crops anymore,” she said.
“The majority of those who harass us are employees at their [Mugabe family] farms.
“We are heading towards independence and with this kind of treatment we don’t know if we are free at all, if we can call this a free country.”
Some of the villagers claimed a Form 2 girl was raped recently after her evicted mother had left her by the roadside as she returned to the farm in a bid to salvage some of the family’s property.
According to reports, the first family has more than 10 farms in Mashonaland Central and West provinces.
These include Gushungo Dairies, Mazowe Iron Mask, Mazowe Sigaro, Gwina, Leverdale, Highfield Farm, Bassiville, Smithfield, Cressydale in Norton and Tankatara, among others.
Another farm linked to Mugabe and his family is in Pomona, Harare.
Lands minister Douglas Mombeshora, however, claimed that it was not true that Mugabe and his family were multiple farm owners.
“Who are those people who tell lies? Let them give us the names of the farms but you must also remember that you are classified as a family with your wife and dependents below 21 years and any adult is allowed to own a farm,” he said.
“Your relative can own a farm, so people should stop looking for relatives’ farms.
“If they are talking about the president they must go and search for the farm, which he was given by the government.
Mashonaland Central Provincial Affairs minister Martin Dinha claimed people being evicted from Arnold Farm were illegal settlers.
But human rights groups have condemned the evictions, describing them as callous.
“This shameless act deserves to be condemned in the strongest of terms,” ZimRights chairperson Passmore Nyakureba said.
“The first lady is encouraged to desist from such detestable practices and play her role as the mother of the nation.
Nyakureba said it was disheartening that children and the elderly were being exposed to the “vagaries of weather and dangerous animals.”