HUNDREDS of farmers and villagers in Mashonaland West province are facing eviction from the land they occupied on the strength of offer letters issued by politicians and lands officers during the chaotic land reform programme.
The situation is reportedly being replicated in all the country’s provinces amid reports that government officials and politicians had parcelled out the land for cash.
Government officials, who occupied lands offices then, and beneficiaries of the 99-year land leases, sold farmland to unsuspecting villagers, mostly former farm workers who found themselves homeless after their employers lost farms through the resettlement programme at the turn of the century.
These are the people that are now being kicked out of the farms by bona fide owners, most of whom were allocated the farms years after the settlers had bought their pieces of land from the unscrupulous officials.
Mashonaland West provincial lands committee has this year alone handled 142 cases of illegal settlements involving mostly villagers who have now been given until next month to vacate the farms.
On January 15, police swooped on John Menyani and 23 other villagers who were accused of contravening section 3 of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act “Occupying a gazetted land without a lawful authority”.
They were remanded in custody for two weeks after being arrested for occupying Gelyksvlei (Lazy Five) Farm in Karoi, Hurungwe district in Mashonaland West province.
They included 61-year-old Monday Meki, Shammy Mafigu (64), Kuyeri Mwanza (63) and four women — Wing Tapureta (55), Stella George (38), Granny Simarungu (57) and Beauty Shereni (49).
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The villagers were convicted for occupying gazetted land and sentenced to a fine of US$50 fine each on top of a four-month suspended sentence. They must pay the fine by February 20, 2024.
Karoi magistrate Johane Mkwesha then ordered them to vacate the farm by March 30, 2024.
During court proceedings, the villagers produced offer letters issued by lands officers at the Hurungwe Rural District Council offices which gave them the right to occupy the land. The court, however, threw the letters out as unofficial.
It has since emerged that the government officials who issued the fake offer letters made a killing from the illegal activities.
One of the convicted villagers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, last week, said they paid various amounts ranging from US$200 to US$500 for A1 farms measuring 6ha each.
“When the farm was gazetted, the former owner went to the Lands office with some of his workers who had nowhere to go after he lost his piece of land.
“These were people who had lived on the farm for many years, some of them had been there for 30 to 40 years, and others were born, bred and worked on the farm,” the villager said.
He said some of the settled villagers went on to invite relatives whom they also gave pieces of land to build on and created villages. When the police descended on the farms in the past few days, they arrested everyone on site demanding offer letters for the land they were occupying.
The few who had offer letters produced them but some of the villagers, who established their homesteads at the farm, were arrested and later convicted by the courts.
Karoi-based farmer Tawanda Mufudze who was evicted from his plot at Avonlea Farm in Tengwe but had the eviction order overturned by the High Court blamed corrupt lands officers for his predicament.
“I have been on this farm for many years but have never had any peace. I had several people coming to claim this same piece of land claiming they had offer letters from the Lands office in Hurungwe,” he said.
Former Lands minister Douglas Mombeshora once transferred lands officers from the Hurungwe district office after a bank manager was irregularly allocated land at Mufudze’s Farm.
He has also been battling a Karoi-based medical practitioner who had been allocated the same farm leading to his eviction in 2022.
“I lost two seasons when the messenger of court came with armed police to evict me. I lost all my livestock including goats, chickens and pigs when the police came and told us to pack our goods and vacate the farm,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs and Devolution minister Marian Chombo is being accused by former ward 15 councillor in the Zvimba District Council Sandram Kembo of settling people on Hapaz Farm.
Kembo razed the settlers’ houses to the ground a fortnight ago while accusing Chombo of working with the illegal settlers because she was after their votes.
“If someone settles at a farm without the owner’s permission, he/she is bound to be evicted and that is what happened, unfortunately, they did that at the instigation of the MP (Marian Chombo).
“She wanted votes and promised these people that she would protect them, but she was nowhere to be found when they were evicted last week,” Kembo said.
The 50-hectare Hapaz Farm in Mutorashanga was invaded by more than 20 families who had been promised that it would be subdivided to accommodate all the families.
At Warwick Farm in Norton some 500 families are also facing eviction after the owner, named only as Nyandoro, served them with eviction orders.
The war veteran lost the case in 2013 but won on appeal late last year hence the evictions.
Late last year, 150 families were evicted from Old Citrus farm owned by Zanu PF central committee member and businessman Philip Chiyangwa.
Chiyangwa’s lawyer Tungamirai Chamutsa said the families lost the case five years ago but were refusing to vacate citing political interference.
One of the evictees Clifford Chaita said most farm owners were politicians who are given to double standards.
“On one hand they want votes from the settlers but when elections are over, they evict people, hence so many evictions after elections,” he said.
With the evictions escalating in Mashonaland West province, the provincial lands committee reached out to district administrators to compile the number of evictions in the province last week.
According to reports from the meeting, in Hurungwe district, six families were arrested at Fiddlers Green with the same number of settlers nabbed at Westlands of Hesketh Park.
A district task force also established that there were 23 illegal settlers at Moyi Farm while more than 600 people had settled themselves in Chipapa A1 resettlements area.
A further 13 illegal settlers from Hesketh Park Farm were recently convicted and sentenced to US$50 fine or 30-day imprisonment.
They were also ordered to vacate the land by March 31, this year.
Twenty-six other illegal settlers in Hurungwe were identified in Nevern Place resettlement while 10 illegal settlers were arrested at Wajetsi Farm.
They have since been convicted while the same fine was imposed with the court ordering them to vacate the farm by the end of March this year.
In Sanyati, the police received reports of illegal settlers at Rondor A Farm but no one has been arrested while they are waiting for a formal report.
However, the lands committee was expected to swoop on reported cases at Arundel (peri-urban) and Golden Valley where council land was occupied by illegal settlers.
At Bluegrass A1 Farm, three alleged land barons were arrested after a tip-off to the National Land Inspectorate team for allocating land in a grazing area.
The suspects are out on bail while investigations are continuing.
An Illegal settlement control committee in Mhondoro-Ngezi also met recently and identified illegal settlers at Darby, Knole and Lonekop farms.
There are 928 illegal settlers at A1 farms in the district while eight others were arrested for illegal occupation of land at Darby A1 Farm.
Police in Mashonaland West have also arrested 142 people for occupying gazetted land without lawful authority including 49 from Makonde, Manyame (17), Hurungwe (59 and Kadoma (17).
Contacted for comment, Chombo said she would deal with challenges the province was facing with illegal settlers.
“We lack resources to visit the farms. Only the ZRP has been allocated fuel for the operation but all the other members are short on fuel.
“The programme is also affected by the unavailability of a database of illegal settlers from farms especially old resettlement areas,” she said.
Chombo said resources should also be availed to the task force for an effective and efficient operation.
“There is need for a digitalised database which is updated continuously for easy retrieval of any required information,” she said.