DEPUTY Transport minister Petronella Kagonye has been sucked into yet another nasty land row where she is alleged to have mobilised former workers at Mashonaland East Tobacco Graders in Bromley to block indigenous owner, Samson Chauruka, from taking occupation of the property.
NDAMU SANDU/PHYLLIS MBANJE
Kagonye, who is Goromonzi MP (Zanu PF), was last week implicated in another land wrangle where she was accused of attempting to grab housing stands she had earlier allocated to 7 000 Zanu PF members ahead of last year’s harmonised elections.
On Saturday, the ex-farm workers in Bromley reportedly assaulted Chauruka claiming that Kagonye had set aside the property for development of residential stands for them. But documents at hand indicate that in 2011 Chauruka bought the 40-hectare property, which was part of Whiteside Farm, from Lesley Lombard.
The melee saw several people being injured in the stampede while a man only identified as White believed to be part of Chauruka’s team reportedly went missing after the clashes. His whereabouts could not be established and by yesterday evening police were still looking for him. White was last seen being attacked by the farm workers who were armed with axes, shovels and bricks.
A visibly shaken Chauruka yesterday revisited the property under police escort where the agitated farm workers pelted him with stones, forcing police to retreat.
“I bought my land in 2011 from a white commercial farmer named Lombard, but MP Kagonye has been fighting me and inciting locals against my occupation of this land that I bought,” Chauruka said.
The farm at the centre of the storm is one of the few last export tobacco processing plants left in the country.
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“All things running normally close to 10 tonnes of tobacco can be processed per day for export. It is this reason that now some bigwigs are trying to stop me from occupying my farm,” Chauruka said.
Following the continuous disputes, the farm was once gazetted by the government, but the order was reversed in February this year.
“After protracted discussions, we were given back our land as we had proved that we bought it and were legally the rightful owners,” Chauruka said.
However, yesterday when Chauruka went to the farm, he was attacked by the farm workers, forcing his police escort to retreat as the situation turned riotous.
Police Riot Squad officers who later accompanied Chauruka failed to contain the crowd which was baying for his blood.
Shouting unprintable words, the farm workers defiantly shoved back at the riot police which was largely outnumbered by the over 100 workers.
The farm workers chased the vehicles all the way to the main road and lined up along the highway pelting the cars with stones and other unknown objects. Kagonye could not be reached for comment as she was reportedly in China.
The purchase of the land by Chauruka came after a company, Mashonaland East Tobacco Grading Contractors, had leased the property from Lombard, but was kicked out after failing to service terms of the lease agreement.
In February this year, the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement acknowledged that Chauruka owned the property.
Part of the ministry’s letter to Chauruka dated February 24 2014 reads: “However it is noted that because of an earlier decision to allocate the same property to Mashonaland East Tobacco Grading Contractors the latter are currently in occupation of the property through a lease which will have to be terminated by the ministry.
“Arrangements to do so following the provisions of the lease to avoid litigation are underway.”
On February 25, the ministry wrote to Mashonaland East Grading Contractors cancelling the lease agreement.
“In terms of policy, government does not acquire indigenous owned properties to allocate the same to indigenous partners,” the ministry wrote. “In view of these developments we regret to advise that in terms of section 5 of the lease, this letter serves to give you three months’ notice from the date of service of this letter for the termination of the lease.”