MVUMA — Over a thousand resettled farmers at Central Estates Farm, 10km northwest of Mvuma, are resisting Zion Christian Church leader Nehemiah Mutendi’s attempts to take over the farm’s headquarters.
By Garikai Tunhira
They allege Mutendi was fraudulently given an offer letter at a time Cabinet had been dissolved five days before the 2013 elections.
“He got an offer letter with the help of Shingirayi Chibhanguza. Indications are that Chibhanguza is related to Herbert Murerwa, who was Lands minister before Cabinet was dissolved in 2013 for the elections,” a resettled farmer who preferred anonymity said.
“His offer letter is dated July 26, 2013. Most of us here got their offer letters from as way back as 2009. Now Mutendi wants to take over 500 hectares of Central Estates, particularly the headquarters area.
“As you can see, there are nice houses here and that three-storey mansion, which the former farm owner built before his farm was repossessed during the peak of land reform era. This is what Mutendi is coming after.”
But Chibhanguza denied any knowledge of “any offer letter” and also being related to Murerwa.
“I’m in no way related directly or indirectly to the (former) minister,” he said on Tuesday.
Murerwa, on the other hand, did not respond to messages sent to him yesterday.
Central Estates Farm used to belong to mining and properties magnate Nicholas van Hoogstraten before government took over the land.
Now more than 1 112 families have settled into the area following the land redistribution exercise.
There are more than 20 up-market houses and a three-storey house, which he had almost finished building, but had to desert it and pave way for the new farmers when the land reform took precedence.
Encompassing 131 927,519 hectares, Central Estates stretches from WhaWha near Gweru, to Gutu, then Chivhu and borders with Mhondoro.
At its peak, Van Hoogstraten’s farm used to keep over 60 000 cattle for beef.
A visit to the farm last weekend showed some of the houses were locked with Van Hoogstraten’s property reportedly still inside, while other yards had been turned into cattle pens.
There is a state-of-the-art abattoir as well which is lying idle.
The new farmers said apparently, the Mvuma lands office was now writing to old offer letter holders that they had encroached into Mutendi’s land, which the new farmers argue “it’s actually him who came here after us”.
A letter to one of the farmers, Leornard Hlathini, gleaned by NewsDay Weekender and was signed by the district lands officer, a T N Chikura, reads: “Encroachment into Central Estates Remaining Extension Boundaries. The above subject matter refers. A survey done by this office has revealed that your plot is within Central Estates Remaining Extension Boundaries which was allocated to ZCC. Pleased visit this office for clarification. Your co-operation will be greatly appreciated.”
The letter is dated January 21 2016 and stamped February 9 2016, but Hlathini said it was only delivered to him last week on Wednesday.
The new farmers said Mutendi got another 1 000 hectares of land at B Hallum Farm, which they accused him of plundering irrigation equipment that was there.
“He says he wants to build an agricultural college here (Central Estates). We want to see his seriousness by first doing that at B Hallum, where there was everything and he plundered it,” one of the farmers said.
Also, after a meeting held on May 13, 2014, the Central Estates headquarters Huchu ward development committee wrote a letter to the Chirumanzu district administrator saying: “May we brief you on ZCC illusions of expansion. During Easter (holidays) 2011, ZCC was allocated Sibio Drift GG in Alaska during the visit of the commander in chief to Mbungo Estates. They had requested to build a university, but nothing has materialised.”
In the same letter, they added: “We wish to draw your attention to government policy with regards the use of infrastructure in land that has been apportioned to farmers under the land reform programme. Needless to say you are well-informed that such infrastructure remains State property and the community is the beneficiary of the same.
“Mbungo Estates is close to 2 000ha and can we say this is not adequate for a college. Lovedale Farm near Mvuma is another farm of ZCC and they have moved further into (the) national park area in Gokwe. Does the one-man-(one)-farm concept apply to the poor only?”
ZCC lawyer Shepherd Mutendi of Mutendi and Shumba Legal Practitioners told NewsDay Weekender on Tuesday that Mutendi had an offer letter for 500ha to set up an agricultural college.
“I am not aware of any settlers that have been evicted for encroaching on its portion. Unless they produced eviction letters to that effect, their claims are misleading. We are a law-abiding church that will use legal channels to settle boundary disputes, if any. Why don’t you contact the Ministry of Lands officers at Mvuma for clarity? Maybe they know something that I don’t,” he said.
The matter has since spilled into the courts, with Mutendi initially seeking the ejection of Hlathini from one of the farm houses.
In Ref Case No GL4/14, magistrate Mildred Matuvi on November 20 2014 at the Mvuma Magistrates’ Court ruled that Hlathini be evicted from the house, but the latter has since appealed at the High Court.
In the appeal, he says the lower court erred in concluding that ZCC had an offer letter to evict him, yet the church’s letter did not show its plot number.
“Respondent (ZCC) was not even aware of its plot number, but the court went on to grant an order for ejectment of appellant (Hlathini). The court a quo misdirected itself by disregarding the offer letter which was produced by the appellant which was not revoked, while accepting that of the respondent,” Hlathini said in his heads of argument.
He is being represented by Everson Chatambudza of Rubaya and Chatambudza Legal Practitioners, while Shepherd is representing the church.