TOP army and police officers are embroiled in a messy fight over the control of Mjingwe Ranch in Mwenezi amid reports that they were demanding $500 000 from the white owner, failure of which they threatened to evict him from the property, NewsDay has learnt.
The money, according to the group, was supposed to be part of their “shareholding dividends” from the wildlife farm since their reported invasion sometime in September 2012.
Mjingwe Ranch, owned by Darryl Collett and South African investor Alastair Forsyth, has an investment certificate from the Zimbabwe Investment Authority.
The settlers – armed with a 25-year lease from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), demanded through their lawyers Chuma, Gurajena and Partners that the Mjingwe owners vacate the farm by May 19 2014 or else they would be evicted to pave way for them.
These were Brigadier-General Josphat Kudumba, Police Assistant Commissioner Elliot Muswita, Army Captain Solomon Ndlovu, headman Peterson Mhizha Mudumo, Raphael Shoko and Finger Tapera.
But Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, who was recently tasked by the Zanu PF politburo to ensure all those offered 25-year leases in conservancies should be removed by May 30, has put his weight behind chiefs Mazetese and Maranda to represent communities in the business rather than the elite security personnel threatening to take over the property.
Bhasikiti said: “There is no reversal (about the 25-year leases). They were cancelled and now await Cabinet ratification this Tuesday.”
Cabinet could not ratify the Zanu PF politburo directive as President Robert Mugabe was not around to chair the meeting, and the matter will be discussed next week according to sources.
The Zanu PF politburo last week cancelled all leases and ordered the eviction of all party big-wigs who had taken occupation of the lucrative Save Valley Conservancy and elsewhere.
Despite the decision ordering the Zanu PF top brass and army chiefs out, it emerged deliberate attempts continue to take over the wildlife estates in the lowveld.
Collett, supported by traditional leaders, is now pleading with government to intervene and protect him.
Documents showed that Muswita, who in 2012 introduced himself as an Assistant Commissioner and his partners, wanted the money to allow them to continue operating in the area.
There have been reports of rampant killing of game in the property for meat which is being carried by army vehicles from Mbalabala School of Infantry.
On May 7 2014, Collett wrote to Brig-Gen Kudumba: “In early 2012, a South African registered motor car drove up the hill to my house. It had a single passenger who introduced himself as Assistant Commissioner Muswita of the ZRP stationed in Masvingo. On being asked what his business was, he told me he was my new partner sent to me by national parks.
“Muswita recently made a demand on us which was followed by a threat. The demand was that we agree to pay the partners
$500 000 (SAR5 000 000) or face the threat of being chased away. When I asked Muswita if that meant they would seek an order from the courts, he said they would not need it. We would simply be chased away.”
Collett said that upon request, he gave Muswita and his team 56 litres of fuel that they used to travel back to Masvingo seeking legal action to remove him from the property.
The lawyers wrote to Collett: “We are now instructed to demand that you vacate the farm and the homestead where you reside to enable our clients to effectively carry on the operations. To this end, we are instructed to demand as we hereby do, that you vacate said property 3:30pm on May 19 2014 failing which we have instructions to you for eviction. Be advised accordingly.”
Ndlovu also wrote a letter to Collett threatening to evict him “in less than 10 minutes” if he disregarded the May 19 ultimatum.
“And it cannot take us 10 minutes to drive you out, never, never. Remember Roy Bennett (MDC-T treasurer-general) your brother, he is now in South Africa, you are chasing yourself. So go, go, go we want to operate in piece (sic). Amen,” Ndlovu wrote signing off as the operations director.
Headmasters, teachers, councillors and other traditional leaders in the community however, said they were fully behind Collett as he was working well with them. They vowed to engage government to ensure the issue was resolved amicably for the benefit of the community “not looters”.
In a letter to Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere, Bhasikiti said: “Following our telephone conversation on the above matter, I would like to refer Mr Collett and his partners, Chief Maranda and Chief Mazetese to your office for assistance.
May I also explain that as Masvingo province, we believe the option two, you gave the 49/51 ownership in safari operation will benefit majority of people and also enhance community development if sitting operators partner the community through their traditional leaders, the chiefs.”
Bhasikiti added: “We have since sent word around to all those holding 25-year leases with A2 farms on the other hand to wait for finalisation of the new thrust.”
The letter was also copied to Zimparks director-general Edson Chidziya. Although Muswiti and his team had threatened to drive Mjingwe owners from their property on Monday, they backed off after realising that the community was heavily involved in the project.
A senior official yesterday said the matter was being handled by Bhasikiti.
Yesterday, Muswita said: “We don’t work on assumptions, ours was not affected and not mentioned in the directive that was given and we can’t work on speculation.
“We were relocated in 2008. We are going to have a hand-over-take-over soon, after failing to do so on May 19 because of other commitments. We have re-planned. We are not worried about the position taken [by Zanu PF politburo]; we are not worried about anything.”
On the $500 000, Muswita said: “That is false, it was a meeting in good faith and that we demanded $500 000 is untruthful. During one of those meetings, he opted to buy cars for directors that were never bought. The other thing was they had worked for five years and suggested to say, $100 000 per year for five years which translates to $500 000.”
He said they could not wrest the ranch this week because of the funeral of the late Brigadier-General John Zingoni who was buried at the national shrine on Tuesday.
“Another issue is we have the lease agreement, we have the hunting quarter and permit. We have everything legal with us. We could have taken over violently but we can’t do that,” Muswita added.