Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Zanu PF Elites in Land Dogfight

By Everson Mushava

None of his contemporaries took the import of a statement by the late Edison Zvobgo seriously when he warned, “Unless care is taken, revolutions may eat their children. But when they begin to eat their fathers, then fate has doomed their nation’s dreams.”

A land redistribution programme that once united President Robert Mugabe’s faithful supporters has turned into a dog-eat-dog fight.

War veterans and a ragtag group of party members who led the invasion of thousands of white-owned farmland more than a decade ago, under the pretext of correcting colonial imbalances, are wilting under the rot of fresh takeovers by more powerful politicians and government officials.

The new dispossessions, victims say, are fraught with corruption and human rights abuses perpetrated from the top, particularly by ministers and well-heeled individuals who regard pioneering settlers as criminals.

Once regarded as the forerunners of the often violent takeovers of white-owned farms, the independence war participants were allowed to parcel out to each other the rich farmlands they had taken over and settled on.

But they seem to have clapped their hands too early, as the honeymoon is gradually coming to an end.

As the Daily News shows today, plum properties have always been for the political elites and the wealthy.

With only a few white-owned farms to grab remaining, powerful politicians and senior government officials as well as the wealthy are turning on their kith and kin, leaving pioneering beneficiaries fighting evictions by top chiefs.

The black-on-black land war has become so vicious that violence and looting is the order of the day, as was the case when former journalist-turned-businessman Edwin Moyo was pushed out of Kondozi horticultural farm by five Zanu PF heavyweights.

Didymus Mutasa, Joseph Made, Christopher Mushowe, Munacho Mutezo and Mike Nyambuya ran their tongues over their lips for the thriving horticultural property, joining the looting spree and throwing more than 5,000 workers out of work.

Acquisitive instinct and open greed among the ruling elite prompted Zvobgo to bemoan that as government, Zanu PF had “turned a noble agrarian revolution into a racist enterprise”.

Commercial Farmers Union, CFU, statistics show that by 2010, President Robert Mugabe and his top allies controlled close to 40 per cent of the 14 million hectares of land seized from about 4,500 white farmers since 2000.

With only 250 white farmers remaining, according to CFU, the focus has turned on the less powerful blacks.

Critics of the land redistribution programme say it has been an act of transferring land to high-profile people and not the landless – a political programme meant to institutionalise looting.

The government used to claim it had resettled over 250,000 families, but on Independence Day [April 18], Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo revealed that a mere 147,000 families were resettled on A1 farms while only 16,000 had got land countrywide under the A2 farming scheme. A1 farms are less than 15 hectares, while A2 farms are anything bigger than that.

The eviction of groups of independence war fighters and other participants to make way for either the rich or the politically-connected exposes the rot that has beset the “offer letters” used to confirm allocation of land to beneficiaries.

Some farms are “officially” offered to multiple owners, resulting in wrangles, some of which have spilled into the courts when politicians resort to brawn and political muscle than reason to eject current occupiers.

For instance, First Lady Grace Mugabe pushed out High Court judge Ben Hlatshwayo from Gwina Farm in Banket, using crude revanchism.

Hlatshwayo had seized the farm from an old white couple. But like the white farmer he dispossessed, he was evicted in similar fashion, as a number of other beneficiaries have been.

Independence war fighters with the help of pro-Zanu PF poor peasants were used by the big chiefs to violently invade white-owned farms on the pretext that they were the beneficiaries. Their lack of access to [redress from] higher offices compounds their problems.

This black-on-black land war comes just as many of the war veterans and the poor peasants were starting to enjoy a modicum of success, as evidenced by the increase in the number of small-scale tobacco farmers and the boom in tobacco production over the past years.

Despite the government’s claim that the land reform was a success, the Daily News can expose that it was a partisan and chaotic programme laced with political expediency.

A land wrangle at Selby farm in Mashonaland Central Province demonstrates how the weak are being plucked out of farms. It also points to potential abuse of offer letters that are now often issued with reckless abandon.

Ten resettled farmers with A1 offer letters issued by Mazowe District Council have been chased away from their plots to make way for a single owner, Elasto Mugwadi.

Mugwadi sits in the Human Rights Commission established in 2010 to investigate human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. He is also a former chief immigration officer. He is brandishing a 2006 offer letter for the farm signed by the then land minister, Didymus Mutasa.

Mugwadi’s offer letter, dated December 20, 2006, shows that he owns Shamwari of Kinvara Farm, an A2 farm in Mugabe’s home district of Zvimba in Mashonaland West. The same offer letter gives him occupancy of part of Selby Farm, Mazowe District in Mashonaland Central, an A1 farm.

A land officer who asked for anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media said A2 farms were administered by the land ministry while A1 farms fall under district administrators, making Mugwadi’s offer letter – which straddles boundaries and farm designations – look suspicious.

An investigation conducted at the Surveyor General’s office by the Daily News and a study of maps possessed by this paper show that Selby Farm indeed falls under Mazowe District, in cadastral survey terms.

“This letter serves to confirm that in cadastral survey terms, the above farms fall under [Salisbury] Harare District. Administratively, it falls within the boundaries of Mashonaland Central Province (Mazoe District),” read part of the letter from the Surveyor General, dated November 2, 2010, concerning Selby Farm.

“It is not possible for one to get a farm that cuts across provinces,” said an officer in the land ministry.

But Mugwadi, in November last year, ordered the arrest of the resettled farmers on criminal charges of trespassing, after he obtained a High Court default judgement by Justice Francis Bere evicting the A1 farmers from the land.

The judgement came after Mugwadi had already used political power to muscle the hapless A1 farmers out of their land, according to the farmers. His victims say that on two occasions, Mugwadi bulldozed the homes of the A1 farmers using his tractor. Efforts to seek justice by the hapless settlers failed.

As the dispute escalated, Lands Minister Hebert Murerwa withdrew Mugwadi’s offer letter on November 15, 2010, giving reprieve to the farmers.

But Murerwa was forced to back down after Chombo wrote a letter to him recommending that Mugwadi get the disputed piece of land because he had “contributed immensely to the country after independence”.

The directive to dispossess the settlers was made with disregard for the fact that among the ten farmers being forced out of Selby Farm is a veteran of Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation war, currently serving as a policeman.

“It would be unfortunate, if not tragic, if Mugwadi was to lose the land that government deservedly allocated him merely because a small portion of the same happened to fall under Mazowe District,” Chombo said in an August 3, 2011 letter to Murerwa.

“I am convinced there is nothing administratively either amiss or illegal in having a property straddling across provincial and/or district boundaries. On the contrary, this scenario is prevailing in a number of areas, and there is no reason why Mugwadi should be an exemption,” reads Chombo’s letter pressuring Murerwa to act in favour of Mugwadi. The Daily News has a copy of the letter.

So eager was Chombo for Mugwadi to get the farm at the expense of the pioneering farmers that he offered to approach Mugabe to expedite the adjustment of boundaries so that the piece of land wholly fell under Zvimba, in Mashonaland West Province.

But Mugwadi’s second offer letter for the same land, dated October 31, 2011, is silent about the fact that the land straddles provincial boundaries, and it fails to mention the number of hectares taken from each province.

An investigation by this paper discovered that Mugwadi’s offer letter could have originated from somewhere other than the provincial offices.

According to a ministry official, the chief land planners for Mashonaland West, Lovemore Vambe, and for Mashonaland Central province, Gerald Chirapa, are ignorant of Mugwadi’s new offer letter.

Asked to comment on his role in the saga, Chombo told the Daily News on February 23 that he was not aware the ten farmers held offer letters for Selby Farm.

“I wrote the letter to Murerwa based on submissions he got from Mugwadi. I am not aware that the ten resettled farmers held valid offer letters from Mazowe District Council,” said Chombo.

Chombo was not the only senior official fighting the hapless farmers.

Lester Muradzi, who is the chief national lands planner, was a star state witness when Mugwadi forced the arrest of the farmers on trespassing charges.

Sitting in the Land Dispute and Resolution Committee and the National Lands Inspectorate, Muradzi wields enormous influence on land issues.

Efforts to contact Murerwa were fruitless, as his secretary said the minister was in South Africa for a medical review and would only be in the office on Monday, April 23. When the Daily News finally got hold of him, Murerwa requested written questions.

The latest efforts to get a comment from the minister were fruitless, as officials in his office said he would be tied up with other business until after the Trade Fair in Bulawayo.

Mugwadi dismissed the allegations as unfounded. In confirming the issue, Mugwadi told the Daily News the ten farmers were “fresh farm invaders”.

“I bought a piece of land adjacent to Shamwari farm in 1998 and applied for more land, which I was awarded in 2006. The group got offer letters in 2009, long after I had been awarded the land and had already cleared it,” said Mugwadi on Tuesday last week [April 17].
He claimed to hold no political links, saying he was “simply a popular person” due to the role he played when he was still the country’s top immigration officer.

“I don’t have political links, but people should know the whole land issue was a political decision,” added Mugwadi.

Some assets left behind by evicted white farmers have also contributed to the internecine black-on-black conflict.

At Galloway Farm in Mazowe District, a retired army officer and now Zanu PF MP for Mazowe North, Cairo Philbert Mhandu, is involved in a fight with another black resettled farmer, Fidelis Gweshe, over fuel storage tanks and a service station left behind by the former white farmer.

Muradzi, the chief lands planner, is again at the centre of the storm.

In a letter to the principal director in President Mugabe’s office, Gweshe accuses Muradzi’s office of doctoring the map of Galloway Farm in Mazowe to benefit Mhandu.

Investigations show that the first approved map drawn after a meeting in the boardroom at the Lands ministry offices in Harare on June 24, 2011 and attended by Murerwa and Provincial Governor Martin Dinha, awarded the service station and fuel tanks to Gweshe.

However, a map now at the offices of the Surveyor General in Harare submitted by Muradzi on October 7, 2011, shows the fuel tanks are now on Mhandu’s side of the farm.

Gweshe abandoned his job at Zesa Holdings to concentrate on farming when he was awarded 109 hectares of land on October 11, 2003, but to date he appears to be the biggest loser. He is losing portions of his land annually, and is now left with less than 60 hectares.

Three weeks ago, Muradzi refused to comment and referred the matter to his superiors when asked why so many offer letters and different maps existed for a single farm. Visited at his offices for the second time a week later, Muradzi referred the Daily News to Sophia Tsvakwi, the permanent secretary in the ministry of lands.

Tsvakwi also refused to comment, telling the Daily News through Muradzi to follow procedure when enquiring about land issues.

She did not explain what procedures she wanted followed, other than just lodging questions with her office.

According to court papers in our possession, Muradzi was last year involved in a nasty fight with a female subordinate in the ministry over land, with the subordinate claiming her boss was trying to withdraw her offer letter for a farm because she had turned down his sexual advances. Muradzi was briefly detained by police on sexual assault allegations.

Magistrate Tayengwa Chibanda ruled that while it could be true that Muradzi could have sexually molested his subordinate, there was also a possibility that he could be being framed because the case now involved farms.

Published in the Daily News, Zimbabwe, in two parts on April 26 and April 27, 2012. 

This investigative report was produced under the Strengthening Media Reform and Civil Society Transition in Zimbabwe project, a partnership between IWPR, the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre and the Media Centre in Harare.