Stealing farms will not empower society or grow our economy

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By Ben Freeth

In the lawless world of Zimbabwean agriculture in 2014, all it takes for a man to steal someone’s home, his livelihood and his crops is an “offer letter” – signed by the Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development. It is as simple as that.

The late Mike Campbell, Ben Freeth and workers on their farm (Picture by Robin Hammond)
The late Mike Campbell, Ben Freeth and workers on their farm (Picture by Robin Hammond)

In the case of Centenary Farm in the Figtree district of Matabeleland South province, the workers and their families were all evicted from their homes of many decades on August 5.  There was no court process.

Police refused to stop the thugs from evicting the farm workers, even though there was a High Court order to stop them.

On that occasion I sat at Figtree police station with the farm owner, Dave Conolly, pleading with police that they adhere to the High Court order and protect the farm workers. But lawlessness prevailed and they refused to act.

The Conollys had irrigated food crops in the ground and, with the High Court order in their favour, they bravely tried to carry on farming.  Zimbabwe, after all, needs crops – and it needs food.  It also needs employment and investment.  The economy will continue to decline rapidly without them, and more people will join the ever increasing ranks of the suffering.

Ironically, the Ministry of Agriculture’s website still states that: “The future of Zimbabwe … lies in the development of a diversified, vibrant, competitive and efficient agricultural sector.”

The person wanting Conolly’s well-established commercial farm is a “chef” – a very senior man in the President’s office. Such men, in lawless states, can do what they like.  All they need is an “offer letter;” and in the lawless chef world of Zimbabwe, that gives them carte blanche to act in contempt of High Court orders and steal with impunity.

The signature and stamp of a judge of the High Court is of no consequence when a chef arrives with an “offer letter” signed by a minister – especially when that chef is Dr Ray Ndhlukula, Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and the Cabinet. Dr Ndhlukula is also in charge of the government’s ZimAsset programmme for food and food security, announced in December 2013.

The irony of this is that the stated vision of the ZimAsset Plan is: “Towards an Empowered Society and a Growing Economy”. The execution of this Plan will be guided by the following Mission: “To provide an enabling environment for sustainable economic empowerment and social transformation to the people of Zimbabwe.”

Yesterday, however, the workers on Centenary Farm were stopped from growing their crops by Dr Ndhlukula’s thugs. Conolly was chased out of his home.   Barricades were put up to stop him coming back and irrigating or reaping the 300,000 onion plants he still has in the ground, or planting the 50,000 cabbage seedlings he has ready to plant this week.

There was no choice but for him and his workers to go to the police station again.  The police are there to uphold the law after all – but not it seems in Zimbabwe where the President’s racist pronouncements and policies reign unchallenged.

Yesterday, after the Conollys and their workers had sat at Figtree police station for eight hours, they were told by a Deputy Commissioner in Harare that in effect, if Dr Ndhlukula had an offer letter, he could do what he liked.

The offer letter is yet to be produced – but the Conollys and their workers left the police station, deeply distressed, as so many thousands of farmers, farm workers and their families have before them, without being offered protection.

It is difficult to explain to someone from another country what it is like to be told by the police that they will not uphold the law and protect you.  It’s a bit like a football game where the referee allows one side to break all the rules and refuses to blow the whistle when people are fouled and kicked and injured – and where none of the rules are adhered to.

The players on the other side play by the rules – but the referee gives red cards to all of this team’s members.  They have to limp off the field and leave a bunch of thugs with an open goal. The same thugs then move on to the next game to do the same thing all over again, with the same referee.

In the Bible, we read that the days the prophet Micah lived in were no different to the days we are currently living through in Zimbabwe:  “They covet fields and seize them, and houses and take them.  They defraud a man of his home.” [Micah 2:2]

Conolly’s Centenary farm is not the first that Dr Ray Ndhlukula has taken, despite the government’s widely stated “one man, one farm” policy.  We know of at least two others: Wilfred Hope’s farm in Marula and Vlakfontein – otherwise known as Subdivision 2 of Marula Block. Centenary farm is Dave Conolly’s only farm.

It is widely believed in Zimbabwe that Dr Ndhlukula’s strong relationship with the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Mrs Sophia Tsvakwi, enables him to get offer letters for farms on demand. In his position, nobody will dare stop him.

The law means nothing to powerful men in ZANU PF.  They are above the law, untouchable, immune to prosecution.  They can do what they like – and their greed knows no bounds. In many cases, the wealth they’ve generated at the expense of poor Zimbabweans is staggering.

As was also the case in the Old Testament with King Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel, Naboth’s vineyard was taken.  So in Zimbabwe, a chef takes the Conolly’s home, stops an entire community from being able to reap its crops, takes the farm and leaves the workers homeless and jobless “because it is in (his) power to do so.” [Micah 2:1]

The Bible has a warning for men like this: “… the Lord says: I am planning a disaster against this people from which you cannot save yourselves.”

The likes of Dr Ndhlukula would be wise to look well at the demise of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, and turn back and repent before they bring more suffering upon the people of Zimbabwe – and, ultimately, divine retribution upon themselves.

Ben Freeth is spokesperson of the SADC Tribunal Rights Watch. You can reach him on e-mail: [email protected]

  • Zimba

    Mwari ahafarire kana kusapota mbavha, varume munorima nzara. Tauriranai nevachena munezvakanaka motora mafarms muchivabhadhara panezvavakavaka kwete kuuraya murungu voti aanangozi unonyepa.