BY SILAS NKALA
The Anglican Province of Central Africa Church, Diocese of Matabeleland, has accused police of being complicit in invasions at its Cyrene Farm in Figtree and turning a blind eye to acts of vandalism perpetrated by illegal settlers on the ranch.
The farm, in Matabeleland South about 40km outside Bulawayo, houses Cyrene Mission which comprises a high school and clinic.
Last week, police picked up 10 people who allegedly led invasions on the farm in the past three months, released them without charge and asked the church to wait for a Lands Commission report, the Southern Eye has heard.
Anglican officials say they have on numerous occasions approached the police asking for action on the over 500 settlers who are wreaking havoc on the farm, first invaded in 2000 at the height of the land reform programme.
Farm workers and the church officials said the settlers had encroached onto school property and were vandalising fencing, destroying vegetation, stealing livestock and panning for gold.
On Tuesday, church officials caught a settler cutting down trees and the person informed them that he had been offered the land.
“When we tried to reason with him so that we would go to the police, he ran away and we gave chase, apprehended him and called the police who advised us to bring the person to the station.
But he was refusing saying he can’t be arrested by povo (ordinary citizens),” an official said.
The official said when they took the settler to the police station they discovered that he was a member of the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
“The police are involved in that invasion that is why they are dragging their feet in acting on the invaders. That man (they apprehended) is a police officer stationed at the licensing Inspectorate in Bulawayo. So it is true that the police are actually leading, that is why they are dragging feet in executing their duties on that piece of land,” he said.
“We approached some people at the farm and they referred us to their leaders. We challenged the police to arrest the settlers and their leaders. They finally agreed to pick the leaders and return to the farm on Monday (today) to deal with the settlers provided the police superiors would agree to arrest them.”
The official said 10 settlers were arrested and taken to Figtree Police Station.
“We are just from the police station and the officer-in-charge said he will refer the matter to the Lands Committee, to confirm if the lands committee gave those people permission to settle on the farm,” the official said.
“The officer-in-charge said for now he was unable to charge them but would ask them to stop visiting the farm, but the dispol visited the station and told him (OIC) in my presence to arrest those people and charge them.”
Contacted for comment on Thursday Matabeleland South police spokesperson Chief Inspector Philisani Ndebele said the church should secure a court order to evict the settlers.
“What I said still stands, they must get the court order and seek a messenger of court’s assistance to get police help, without that it will be very difficult for the police to assist them,” he said, but did not comment on police involvement in the land invasion. However, a return of service signed by the deputy sheriff in Plumtree dated January 29, 2014 states that an attempt to serve a writ of ejection on the settlers was not effected because the police could not provide officers to accompany the deputy sheriff to the farm.
“Found at ZRP Figtree was Assistant Inspector Tinacho who informed the deputy sheriff that there was an instruction from ZRP General Headquarters to stop police from providing police officers during evictions,” the return of service read.
“The deputy sheriff attempted to serve the writ of ejection upon the remaining defendants but stopped because the situation was tense. Will retain the process pending the availability of police officers to accompany the deputy Sheriff.”
A letter written by the Lands ministry signed by one M Dzinoreva for the secretary for Lands and Rural Resettlement dated November 4, 2014 to the church states that the farm was not gazetted for acquisition by the government.
The church also appealed to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to intervene and stop the illegal occupation of the farm in a letter dated May 28, 2020 copied to the officer-in-charge Figtree Police Station.
“Cyrene Farm is owned by the Anglican Church (title Deeds of Transfer 1704/87 refers). The farm is registered under the Trustees in Matabeleland of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa. The farm measures approximately 2 540,8 morgens. It houses Cyrene High School, (boarding school), Cyrene Clinic and a cattle ranching concern with a herd of close to 300 beasts, 70 pigs and have a horticulture project,” the letter read.
The Church stated that a couple of eviction orders were obtained from the courts but were not executed as a result of the political climate at that time.
“This being the scenario, our added concern now is that in the past three months or so, we have witnessed fresh invasions at Cyrene Farm,” the Church stated, adding that the settlers had encroached onto the school and were panning for gold, stealing livestock and decimating the environment.
“We appeal to your good office to step in urgently and stop this occupation and lawlessness. We pray that the rule of law may prevail.”