Tsvangirai rocked by niece farm-grab
By Fred Bridgland and Jane Fields
A RICH niece of Zimbabwe’s prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, currently on a three-week tour of western countries to beg for aid to kick-start his country’s battered economy, has tried to take over a white-owned commercial farm by force.
Dr Erikana Chihombori, who owns a lucrative medical practice in the United States and has citizenship there, tried to seize Bertie Cremer’s 60-hectare flower farm near Chegutu, 60 miles east of Harare, but the young land invaders she hired withdrew after complaining they were being paid too little.
She insists she has letters from the Zimbabwean government permitting her to expropriate Mr Cremer’s De Rus Farm, which has been owned by his family for 81 years. She also says she has a right to the land, and that her takeover will help “correct historical injustices”.
The attempted land grab by Dr Chihombori, who was born in Zimbabwe, is potentially hugely damaging to Mr Tsvangirai and to his efforts to secure western aid, as he seems to be complicit, at least by association, in her attempt to take the property.
Yesterday, he met President Barack Obama in Washington to ask the US to help him and Zimbabwe without assisting powerful president Robert Mugabe.
Mr Obama, along with leaders of other western democracies, has said he wants reforms to the rule of law and human rights in Zimbabwe and an end to farm invasions before the US considers resuming financial aid.
Mr Tsvangirai, who entered a power-sharing agreement with Mr Mugabe in February, was with Dr Chihombori at the inauguration ceremony of new South African head of state Jacob Zuma on 9 May in Pretoria. They were photographed together on the VIP red carpet.
The relationship between them is far from clear. Mr Tsvangirai, 57, told the US ambassador to Zimbabwe before flying to Washington that he had no relationship of any kind with Dr Chihombori, 52. Then, after he left for Washington, Mr Tsvangirai’s spokesman said Dr Chihombori was his niece. “That is not in dispute,” he added.
But yesterday, junior officials in Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said he and Dr Chihombori had been meeting frequently in South Africa since his wife, Susan, died in a car crash in March.
In an interview this week with SW Radio, a former Zimbabwe-based station now operating from London and beaming into Zimbabwe, Dr Chihombori said she had been given an “offer letter” last December from the Zimbabwean government permitting her to seize Mr Cremer’s land and farmhouse. She said that “as a Zimbabwean citizen” she had “a right to land”.
However, she is, in fact, a US citizen and Zimbabwean law does not permit dual citizenship. It is, therefore, a mystery as to how she obtained the necessary “offer letter” from the government permitting her to take De Rus Farm.
Asked on the radio show if it was right to “steal” someone else’s property, she replied that Zimbabwe’s land redistribution programme was introduced to “correct historical injustices”.
She also told SW Radio’s Violet Gonda that she had withdrawn the farm case from court “for the time being”. She insisted this was not down to pressure from Mr Tsvangirai but because of the way Mr Cremer allegedly abused her sister and a land official when they visited De Rus Farm to take possession.
Dr Chihombori said: “At one point, Mr Cremer let his dog at them and started yelling at my sister, calling her a cold stupid kaffir (the highly abusive equivalent of ‘nigger’ in the US] and that he was not going to listen to any instructions from a kaffir.”
Last night, Mr Cremer’s wife Lena, asked to comment on the abuse allegation, told The Scotsman: “It is absolutely untrue that my husband verbally abused this woman or set the dogs on her. He never did. Besides, whites would never talk like that in this day.”
The farm, bought by Mr Cremer’s grandfather in 1928, was originally 716 hectares. As a result of land reform, more than 650 hectares were given to black “settlers” in 2002.– Scotsman.