BY SILAS NKALA
the Anglican Church-owned Cyrene Farm in Figtree has been hit by a fresh invasion with up to 500 people now illegally settled at the property since the chaotic land reform programme began in 2000.
The settlers are allegedly vandalising fencing and destroying the environment through illegal gold panning with the police accused of not taking action against them, prompting church authorities to seek President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s intervention.
In a letter dated May 28 and directed to the Matabeleland South chief lands officer, the church said it was worried about the fresh invasion of its 2 540-hectare property, which houses Cyrene Mission, High School and clinic as well as a cattle ranch.
The letter was signed by Matabeleland Diocesan Trustees, reverends Cleophas Lunga, Fritz N Madida and Moffat Musasa.
“Prior to the illegal settlement on the farm in the year 2000 onward, a portion of the farm was utilised for game ranching.
“As alluded to, the farm was invaded by settlers illegally in the year 2000 onward.
“It had not been gazetted for resettlement in the land reform programme (letter from Lands Officer refer: I/183/MS dated November 4 2014 refers),” reads the letter.
The church said a couple of eviction orders were obtained from the courts in a bid to normalise the otherwise untenable situation on the farm.
“For one reason or the other, these were not executed through no fault of the church, but as a result of the political climate at that time.
“The church still insists on the enforcement of the eviction orders,” reads the letter.
“This being the scenario, our added concern now is that in the past three months or so, we have witnessed fresh invasions at Cyrene Farm. Certain individuals have apportioned themselves plots, which they have cleared of vegetation and are in the process of erecting houses and homesteads.”
The church stated that the plots encroached unhealthily on the school side of the farm and this added to the perennial attendant problem of deforestation, gold panning, overgrazing, and stock theft.
“We appeal to your good office to step in urgently and stop this occupation and lawlessness. We pray that the rule of law may prevail,” the church wrote.
The church indicated that it had tried to engage the police to stop the illegalities to no avail.
According to an official who asked to remain anonymous, the police in Figtree are reluctant to enforce all the court orders the church has been granted.
“But what we are getting from some settlers when we approach them are threats if we try to stop them from destroying vegetation and hunting animals,” he said.
“They claim to have strong links with the police and we have noticed that some of the police officers have driven their cattle from as far as Gwanda to graze in our farm.
“It is our prayer as a church that President Mnangagwa should intervene on this as we also are subject to his leadership.
“When we wrote the letter to the chief lands officer, they said they are not responsible for resettling the people on the farm and police must act on settlers according to the court orders.
“We are saying if it is the government that is dishing out the land, they must declare to us.
“As I speak, we have never received any communication from the government, which shows that the farm has been acquired by the government for resettlement.”
Matabeleland South police spokesperson Chief Inspector Philisani Ndebele said the church was advised to bring the court order and the messenger of court.
“But as far as the police are concerned, those people [church], have not yet followed the advice and we are still waiting for them,” Ndebele said.
“We are surprised to hear their concerns from you.
“The dispol is still waiting for them to follow the advice he gave them.”
Lands minister Perrance Shiri’s phone rang unanswered.
In 2015, Shiri’s predecessor, Douglas Mombeshora, sent a delegation to investigate the issue, but it was later reported that Cyrene Farm had been gazetted for land redistribution together with the controversial Maleme Farm, which saw villagers and chiefs come together to challenge the takeover.
Anglican Church officials have maintained that the government has never acquired land from churches.