Settlers at Vreigright Farm near Figtree in Matobo are up in arms with the government over the eviction of a white farmer from the area who has been replaced by Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Maphios Cheda, NewsDay can reveal.
The people who were resettled under the A1 communal model are arguing that they were not informed about the new arrangement in which Justice Cheda took over the homestead where the white farmer used to stay and has reportedly threatened to partition 500 hectares of the 1 301ha farm for himself.
“When we occupied this land at the height of the land reform we were settled as A1 land holders and we were advised by the district authorities to co-exist with a white farmer who had a conservancy here and we did that,” a representative of the farmers said in an interview recently.
“About three months ago, however, we saw Justice Cheda coming from the blue to settle here.
“No one told us why the white man was being removed. Justice Cheda himself had to come and introduce himself to us and told us that he has an offer letter for 500 hectares of land which is a huge chunk and we ask where our animals will graze.
“If he is coming in he has to come as an A1 holder like the rest of the 24 families on this farm, otherwise we don’t want him here.”
Another settler said if Justice Cheda was to live with them he should be allocated land equivalent to the size that each family had on the farm, not for him to take up almost half the farm.
The settlers said Justice Cheda had already started dictating as if he was “our landlord” and it had become difficult to get water from him unlike in the past when the white farmer was on the land.
“We lived well with the farmer but now we have seen police coming around with the surfacing of Justice Cheda from nowhere and we now have a very uneasy relationship with him,” fumed one of the settlers who visited NewsDay offices to raise the settlers’ grievances.
“Obviously, we fear him, being a judge, and do not see why the white man was removed. We tried to pursue this issue by going to Chief Masuku who promised to look into it, but we understand he met Cheda and since then he has just turned a blind eye to the issue.”
Contacted for comment, Justice Cheda told NewsDay that he was lawfully on the farm having been given an offer letter for a 500 hectares by the Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Herbert Murerwa.
The letter Justice Cheda was referring to was signed by Murerwa and dated September 21, 2010.
Part of it read: “Subdivision 1 of R/E of Vreigright in Matobo District of Matabeleland South Province for agricultural purposes”.
The letter further states that the land that the judge was apportioned is “approximately 500 hectares in extent”.
He told NewsDay that the authorities were yet to show him the “boundaries” but as far as he was concerned, he “co-existed peacefully” with the settlers.
“I think some people have been offended by the fact that we have said they should not herd cattle moving around with dogs because there is a wildlife facility here and obviously we don’t want poaching, unless you people feel lawlessness should be allowed to prevail,” Justice Cheda said.
“I am a law-abiding citizen, I cannot be seen to be condoning poaching. In fact, I believe two people were arrested and convicted for poaching. As for water, they have access to the water and I pay for the diesel for pumping the water. I am not inhumane. I would never deny fellow humans water of all things.”
He went on: “The only problem we have had is that there are some people who have been stealing diesel and I have only asked that we all watch out for that as we all depend on the water. There is nothing unlawful that I have done. I applied for land to the Matobo District Lands Committee and I was eventually granted an offer letter. This is the only farm that I have as I have given up the farm that I was leasing from the Cold Storage Company in Umguza District in Matabeleland North.”
Justice Cheda conceded that maybe the authorities should have held a meeting with the settlers to introduce him before he came.
“Maybe such a meeting would have helped but I took it upon myself when the authorities had not done that to call a meeting and talk to them. I also went to the chief as the traditional leader, so I don’t see where the query is but in any case their misgivings about my presence here should be addressed by the authorities who offered me the land. Talk to the provincial administrator or the provincial chief lands officer about the issue,” he said.
Contacted for comment, the provincial administrator David Mpofu said he would speak to the press only after talking to the Matobo district administrator while the provincial chief lands officer, one Mthinkulu was out of office.
An official in the chief lands officer’s office in Gwanda refused to comment, saying he was not authorised to do so.
“I am aware of the case, but we are not allowed to release information about farms,” the official said.
“That information is confidential. I will be fired if I say anything about that. Wait until Mthinkulu comes back but I do not think he will talk to you on the issue.”
On Thursday, Mpofu said there was a mix-up as he had consulted the Bulilima district administrator instead of the Matobo district administrator, a Molefe.
Later, he said, Molefe could not be located.