The wife of a Zimbabwean farmer evicted from the family plantation by a British GP wept today as she described the trauma of losing everything they own.
Anita Rankin, who has farmed the tobacco fields with husband Phillip for thirty years, said she could no longer cope with the campaign of intimidation from ‘thugs’ employed by the GP, who is said to be friends with Grace Mugabe.
She told MailOnline: ‘This is actually too much for me. This has been going on for months. The people have not behaved well towards us.
‘They would come to the kitchen door and stare at us and they made so much noise. It was a very tough situation and it went on and on.
‘We don’t know where we will live or what we will do. I am born and bred on a farm. I don’t know town life. And I only know Zimbabwe.’
The Rankins were handcuffed by police and dragged off their land so it could be claimed by Sylvester Nyatsuro, a black British doctor who runs a weightloss clinic in Nottingham.
The property in northern Zimbabwe was stormed by police officers, who have since taken over their home and even confiscated their tractor when workers tried to continue efforts to grow tobacco, and the stress of the situation has made Mrs Rankin ill.
She and her husband are now staying with their son Barry in Harare as they contemplate how to claim back the £300,000 tobacco crop they planted and move on with their lives.
The deserted farm was eerily quiet on Tuesday morning, apart from the sounds of the settlers – one of whom was armed with an AK-47.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds of carefully planted tobacco is being allowed to wither in the sun, while a once-loved garden blooming with flowers goes untended.
A handful of workers can be seen in the distance trying to salvage the Rankins’ expensive crop.
The Rankin family has no property beyond the farm and had borrowed a huge sum of money – £400,000 – to finance this year’s crop and manage debts from previous years.
Son Barry said: ‘We paid the workers their January salary [on Monday], but as for next month I just don’t know. I don’t know how we will manage any of this.’
Barry, 33, began to work for his father in 2010 and then built a new house on the farm for his wife and three young children.
Dr Nyatsuro, who is supposedly linked to the Mugabes through his wife Veronica, apparently turned up at Kingston Deverill in September with a government document saying that he was now the rightful owner of the land.
Two dozen settlers then moved into a nearby cottage and caused problems for the family, according to Mrs Rankin, 54, who has three children with her husband.
The family said their home is now under guard by seven members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police who have prevented workers from using the tractor.
Officers are sleeping on the floor inside the empty house and have even removed some of the doors from the property and loaded them on to a vehicle.
Dr Nyatsuro, 45, is originally from the African country but has lived in Britain for at least 15 years, and is now in charge of his own GP practice.
He and his wife Veronica, who is reportedly travelled to Zimbabwe on January 26, were allocated the Rankins’ farm under Robert Mugabe’s controversial land seizure laws which allow the state to take the property of white people and hand it over to ‘indigenous’ black Africans.
Barry, speaking from his new home in the capital Harare, described how the family thought they had ‘survived’ after they held onto their land in the initial wave of confiscations by the Mugabe regime.
He hit out against the eviction, saying it ‘doesn’t make sense’ that a wealthy professional who lives in the West should be given property by the government.
‘As a family we are absolutely gutted,’ Mr Rankin told MailOnline. ‘We have been turfed off of our land and there’s nothing we can do about it. We are devastated.
‘It was our business – but more important than that, it was our home. We have never owned anything other than the farm and that’s gone in one weekend.
‘My parents have been working on the farm for 35 years. I grew up there. Those years have not all been hunky dory, we have had our ups and downs like any family, but we thought the farm would always be there.
In the early hours of Friday morning, 20 police officers dug under the fence surrounding the family’s home and knocked on the door before carting away most of their belongings and taking them to a derelict warehouse.
They then handcuffed Mr Rankin and took him to a police station before later releasing him to stay with relatives.
Barry added: ‘We have had 16 years of land acquisition in Zimbabwe and we thought we’d survived – we didn’t see this coming. We thought we had ridden our way through it, we thought we would be alright.
‘I don’t know what we are going to do. I can’t even think beyond tonight.’
Slamming the decision to give his land to Dr Nyatsuro, he added: ‘It doesn’t make sense to me, how a doctor who lives in the UK can come and take our land.
‘Land requisition was supposed to be for the landless, for the people who didn’t have anything. I thought it was for the people of Zimbawe with nothing, not for wealthy British doctors who do not live here.
‘But what do I know? I don’t know the law, I’m just a simple farmer. My parents have farmed tobacco over four decades, it is all we ever knew.’
‘It is every family’s dream to pass on their property onto their children. My parents were going to give it to me, and I was going to pass it on to my children and their children after that.’
A tobacco expert, who asked not to be named, said Northern Tobacco, which represents British American Tobacco in Zimbabwe, tries to ensure that all farming it finances in the country is grown on land which remains in control of the original owner.
‘They don’t want to buy tobacco from stolen farms,’ he said, predicting that the Rankin’s tobacco would be taken away when it is cured, and will be bought by another company for sale.
Phillip and Anita Rankin both have British ancestry but were born and brought up in Zimbabwe, employing more than 40 people at Kingston Deverill.
Dr Nyatsuro has been practising as a doctor in Nottingham for at least 15 years after moving to Britain from his home country, and he describes his nationality as British in official documents.
He runs a GP practice, The Willows Medical Centre, and is a specialist in helping patients lose weight.
The doctor lives with his wife and their three children in a £700,000 five-bedroom home outside Nottingham. Mrs Nyatsuro has been rumoured to be related to Mugabe’s wife Grace, but she has denied this.
Last year he launched the Zimbabwe Diaspora Skills Network, a charity which aims to use the expertise of Zimbabweans living abroad to boost healthcare and other services in the poverty-stricken state.
He was previously director of Midlands College Limited, a company which provided training for dental nurses and was the subject of a compulsory winding-up order in 2010.
The couple have denied using violence to enforce their claim to the Rankins’ farm, saying that they were allocated the property by the state in accordance with normal legal procedures.
At the time that news of their claim to the farm came to light last year, Dr Nyatsuro’s clinic was targeted by protesters accusing him of collaborating with the Mugabe regime.
Mrs Nyatsuro said that the couple were ‘under siege’ and claimed they had received death threats, insisting that none of the Rankins’ allegations were true.
A protest by supporters of the Rankins is set to take place on Friday, with around 50 people expected to take part.
Among them will be Rose Benton, 70, from Zimbabwe Vigil, a group that aims to promote human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe. She criticised Dr Nyatsuro for trying to move in on the land.
Mrs Benton, who is originally from Zimbabwe but lives in London, said: ‘He is a British citizen and a GP – it is pure theft what is happening. He is someone who is living and working in England but he is behaving in a thuggish way.
HOW MUGABE’S LAND GRABS LED TO VIOLENCE AND POVERTY
Robert Mugabe’s policy of ‘land reform’ has been running for 16 years, with 90 per cent of white farmers in Zimbabwe seeing their land taken and given to black people instead.
The government insists it is necessary to reduce the whites’ economic dominance which dates back to the colonial era – but opponents claim it is a tyrannical and unfair process which bears little relation to justice.
The white farmers, many of whom have occupied the same plots for decades, were removed from their homes without compensation and often suffered violence from police during the evictions.
Around 20 farmers and their workers died during the first wave of seizures, which contributed to the country’s economic collapse as Zimbabwe’s skills base was hollowed out and the amount of crops produced tumbled.
The policy also led to allegations that Mugabe’s cronies were more likely to be given land than genuinely needy citizens.
Some suggested that the reforms were instigated as a way of distracting from the government’s failure to implement true democracy in the decades after the end of white rule, with Mugabe presiding over a series of rigged elections and ruthlessly quashing political dissent.
But the policy instead made the regime less stable, with Zimbabwe’s economic troubles causing the collapse of the local currency after a period of damaging hyperinflation.
Roughly 300 white farmers were left in possession of their land, but last year the policy of confiscation seems to have started again, threatening the last remaining holdouts such as the Rankin family in Centenary.
‘It is double standards that he is supporting Mugabe but living here. At the moment (in Zimbabwe) if you are connected to the government you can go round stealing other people’s land.’
Mrs Benton’s husband, Dennis, 74, also a member of the group, said: ‘The Rankins were born in Zimbabwe… and now a British doctor who has lived here for 15 years and has no intention of going back can steal this farm when the crop is still in the ground.
Neighbours of the couple described the doctor as ‘a perfect gentleman’ who would never want to cheat anyone else.
‘He is an exceptionally nice man and a perfect gentleman,’ one local resident said. ‘You couldn’t meet a nicer guy.
‘Veronica keeps to herself but she’s nice too. They moved in here around 2006, I believe. They’ve always been approachable.
The neighbour added that the couple had spent less time at their Nottingham home recently as they stepped up their charity work in Zimbabwe.
Dr Nyatsuro’s lawyer today denied that his client had clashed with the Rankin family, claiming that the farmers had not been able to prove that they are the rightful owners of the land.
He also insisted that the doctor’s political connections were not responsible for his being given the farm, saying ‘any Zimbabwean has a right to benefit from the land reform programme’.
Fungai Chimwamurombe, a Harare-based solicitor, told MailOnline: ‘The government’s position is that the farm was acquired over a decade ago.
‘At various court sessions we attended with Mr Rankin and his lawyer, they failed to show the legal basis why he was occupying the farm.
‘It is our understanding that the minister of lands offered our client the land because they believe it is state land and it is up to Mr Rankin to prove otherwise.
‘The issue here is not between our client and Mr Rankin because he is only a third party who applied generally for land years back. He was on the waiting list for a long time and was offered this state land on the strength of his application.’
The lawyer added that Dr Nyatsuro did not know that the farm was occupied by the Rankins until he went to take possession of the property allocated to him by the government.
He said: ‘It is our understanding that many Zimbabweans regardless of political affiliation benefited from the land reform programme.
‘We are not aware of their relationship status with the president… any Zimbabwean has a right to benefit from the land reform programme.’
Mr Chimwamurombe claimed that the ownership of the farm had not been finally settled because police told Dr Nyatsuro that he could not immediately move in.
The Foreign Office has expressed concern over the seizure of the Rankins’ farm and suggested that it ‘did not follow the process as described by the constitution’.