BY SILAS NKALA
LAND ownership disputes, some involving senior Zanu PF and government officials including the country’s deputy spy Chief Gatsha Matzithulela dominated the news in 2021.
The fight for Kershelmar Farms commonly known as Esidakeni in Nyamandlovu, Matabeleland North and the Cyrene farm owned by the Anglican Province of Central Africa Church Dioceses of Matabeleland in Figtree, Matabeleland South grabbed the headlines.
Esidakeni Farm is hotly contested.
Its co-owners Zephaniah Dhlamini, Charles Moyo and Siphosami Malunga are fighting a fierce legal battle for control of the property after the government gazetted it for compulsory acquisition in December 2020 for distribution to landless blacks.
Businessman Dumisani Madzivanyati was given 50 hectares of the property after the farm was gazetted. But the trio are challenging his offer letter as unlawful, arguing that the farm is private property.
They argue that they bought the farm from a former white commercial farmer and hold title deeds.
As they were still fighting with Madzivanyati, Zanu PF secretary for administration Obert Mpofu who has been reported as a multiple farm owner came into the picture waving an offer letter of the same property.
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In a letter written by Lands minister Anxious Jongwe Masuka on June 30, 2021, Mpofu’s Mswelangubo Farm was offered 145 hectares of Esidakeni which measures 553 hectares.
“Like any Zimbabwean, I got an offer letter. I wish to have a farm for cultivating crops. At the moment I don’t have a farm. I only have a conservancy. I got an offer letter for Esidakeni Farm,” Mpofu gladly told the media.
Mazithulela and Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs minister Richard Moyo have been cited in court papers as key figures at the centre of the farm grab.
According to court papers, Madzivanyati, who was in the company of a ‘gang’, invaded the farm in July this year and attacked farm manager Sipho Nkomo before chasing him away.
On October 7, Bulawayo High Court Judge Justice Martin Makonese ordered Madzivanyati to stop his activities and vacate the property.
Makonese made the ruling on an application for spoliation filed by the farm owners.
“The respondent is hereby interdicted from interfering with the applicants’ farm workers and the applicants’ farm operations in carrying manner whatsoever,” Makonese ruled.
But Madzivanyati defied the court order and remained on the farm prompting Malunga and his colleagues to file for his eviction.
Bulawayo High Court Judge Justice Evangelista Kabasa on October 28 ordered the deputy sheriff, assisted by the police, to evict Madzivanyati.
He was evicted but returned a few days later prompting the applicants lawyer Josphat Tshuma to file for contempt of court citing Madzivanyati, deputy sheriff and officer in charge, Nyamandlovu Police Station as first to third respondents respectively.
Another Bulawayo High Court Judge Justice Bongani Ndlovu on December 7 ordered the deputy sheriff and police to evict Madzivanyati from the farm or risk arrest if he refuses to vacate.
“In the event that the 1st respondent and all those claiming occupation through him return to Esidakeni Farm, the 3rd respondent is hereby directed to effect their arrest and to detain them pending the final determination of this matter,” he ruled.
This was after Malunga and others filed an application seeking the court to find Madzivanyati in contempt of court and sentence him and his workers to 12 months in jail.
On Wednesday, the applicants’ lawyer Tshuma told The Southern Eye that the deputy sheriff with the help of the police enforced the eviction order against Madzivanyati on Monday.
“They were evicted on Monday. The deputy Sheriff evicted them and I am not aware if they returned to the farm, but if they do so they would be arrested as per the order,” Tshuma said.
“I do not currently have a return of service with me now because I am not in office, but I was informed in authority that they were evicted.”
Court papers show that Malunga and others hold title deeds of transfer of the farm 1980/90.
But the ministry of Lands Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement purportedly acquired Esidakeni farm by way of notice of acquisition being general notice 3042 of 202 via a notice of Acquisition being General Notice 3042 of 2020 published in the Zimbabwe Government Gazette on December 18 2020.
Kershelmar Farms PVT Ltd Directors have also filed an application for spoliation to bar Mpofu from invading the farm.
But Bulawayo High Court Judges Justice Nokuthula Moyo and Justice Christopher Dube Banda recused themselves from the case on grounds that they were known to some of the litigants.
Indications were that Justice Maxwell Takuva was on leave, Justice Evangelista Kabasa who once made judgment on the same farm was away and Justice Makonese who was off duty had to go back to work to address the parties on the way forward.
He advised them that he would speak to the Judge President for another Judge either from Harare or Masvingo to be allocated to deal with the case on an urgent basis.
Tshuma on Wednesday said they were yet to get an update on the matter.
“The applicants say they did not consent to Mpofu’s occupation of their farm. The issue of who owns it is neither here nor there and the courts are the ones to determine as the matter is still pending in court,” Tshuma said.
Mpofu and his wife say they were allocated the farm by the government.
Reports show that he owns a catalogue of real estate in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, with total farm holdings that come to at least 65,000 hectares, placing him “amongst the country’s biggest landowners.’
Partnership Africa Canada investigations 2012 revealed Mpofu as one of the “top five landowners in Zimbabwe.”
Meanwhile Cyrene farm which has a long standing dispute since 2000, where the first group of invaders mostly believed to be Zanu PF supporters grabbed part of the farm, also grabbed the headlines.
Over 500 illegal settlers invaded the farm between March 2020 and December 2021. Estimates are that there are now more than 1000 illegal settlers.
The farm houses Cyrene High School, a boarding institution, Cyrene Clinic and a cattle ranching concern with a herd of close to 300 beasts, 70 pigs and a horticulture project.
Reports of an influx of invaders at the farm prompted the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) to visit the farm to probe circumstances surrounding the invasion.
Close to 30 families were evicted from the farm early this year and dumped along the Plumtree road but indications are that they all returned to their invaded land a few days later.
The deputy sheriff and police reportedly abandoned their evictions in the middle of the operation under unclear conditions
ZHRC deputy chairperson Dorothy Moyo said the commission visited the farm to investigate the disturbances.
“ZHRC conducted a fact finding/investigative visit to the Cyrene Farm from. This was after ZHRC received reports from authorities at Cyrene mission that the Cyrene farm had experienced an influx of illegal settlers during the Covid era.
“Investigations by ZHRC are continuing with engagements with relevant stakeholders. Once the investigations are completed a report with recommendations will be produced,” Moyo said.
In 2003, the Anglican Church filed a High Court application seeking the eviction of settlers from the farm.
The High Court granted the order, but the deputy sheriff did not execute the order until recently when the deputy sheriff was paid to deal with only 52 of the illegal settlers.
Church officials are concerned that the settlers continued to return to the farm and police officers were reluctant to take action. The invaders are reportedly encroaching onto Cyrene High School, clinic and a cattle-ranching project.