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Tsvangirai's niece in Chegutu farm grab

A niece of prime minister Tsvangirai is involved in an attempt to grab a farm in the Chegutu district. Dr. Arikana Chihombori, who lives in the United States and practices family medicine in Antioch, Tennessee, has been actively trying to seize De Rus Farm from Mr L J Cremer since late last year. Mr Cremer was first contacted in November 2008 by the local Lands Officer, who produced an offer letter dated August 2007 showing that De Rus farm had been allocated to Dr Chihombori.

In January this year, Dr Chihombori sister sent a group of unemployed youths to take the farm, but the occupation only lasted three days, after which the youths left, complaining of not being paid enough. In April, Dr Chihombori applied to the courts for an application to evict the Cremer family, producing the same offer letter as evidence, this time dated December 2008. Dr Chihombori visited De Rus Farm in May to see her ‘new’ property.

Mr Cremer was born on the farm, which was originally 716 ha in extent. In 2002, 650 ha were taken away and given to new farmers. The De Rus family were left with 60 ha, on which are the homestead and outbuildings. Mr Cremer lives on the farm with his wife – a third generation Zimbabwean – their two daughters, their husbands and five grandchildren. De Rus Farm employs 300 staff, some of whom also live on the property. The state has paid no compensation for the seized land. The Cremers used to run cattle, and produce food and cotton on the seized portion of the farm. Since 2002, production on that land has been minimal, with no more than 20 ha under crops, and many parts now covered in thorn trees five metres tall.

In 2003, that part of De Rus Farm still in the Cremers’ hands was granted Export Processing Zone status, later turned into an Investment License. The status of Investment Licence gives legal protection against seizure by the state. The Cremers also have letters from the local land committee and the provincial governor recommending that they be allowed to continue farming. They grow cutflowers for export, as well as vegetables for the local market. There are also plans to produce vegetable seedlings for the outgrowers of a processing company. The Cremers’ neighbour, who used to produce the seedlings, has been evicted.

“It is very obvious that this acquisition is not about land reform,” said Mr Cremer in a statement. “How can this government ask for food aid while they are busy removing food producers from their farms? How can they justify the unemployment rate while they are removing 300 people from employment under the guise of Land Reform? A small productive farm is being taken from Zimbabweans and given to someone who resides in America. It is about greed, people stealing our homes, land, jobs and livelihood and hiding behind politics.

The only reason for evicting us must be race.” Dr Chihombori came to prominence in May when she was seen accompanying Tsvangirai at the inauguration of Jacob Zuma as South African president. She was born in Zimbabwe, but was educated in the US and has practiced there for the past 30 years. She is married to a Ghanaian, also a doctor in the US. In 1992, she founded the Bell Family Medical Centre in Tennessee, of which she is the CEO. She is also co-owner of the Mid-Tennessee Medical Associates, which is a multi-speciality clinic with 16 physicians.

In 1999 her company received US$750 000 from the World Bank to fund its involvement with the Torwood Hospital and Redcliff Medical Center in Kwekwe, which her company had taken over from Zisco, the troubled steel producer in the town.- ZW News

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