Thursday, March 27, 2014

Shurugwi’s Own American West

March 27, 2014 Opinion & Analysis
Zimbabwe Women farmers contribute immensely to the land reform program.
Tichaona Zindoga Senior Features Writer
Zimbabwe Herald

The issue of land remains as emotive as ever, with reports being received everyday of farm wrangles involving the powerful in society as well as ordinary citizens.

The land reform programme, which Government initiated in 2000 to reverse the historical imbalances that had a minority white community owning about three-quarters of all arable land in Zimbabwe, has not brought closure to the land question.

In fact, it has opened new chapters and subplots to the story of land ownership in the country.

Corrangamite Farm in Shurugwi has become one stage for the hugger-mugger over land.

This time it is what one can describe as a “range war”: A typically undeclared war for water and grazing rights and made famous in the American West.

It has been a long, drawn-out affair at Corrangamite but it would seem one man, John Anderson, will have the last laugh.

Anderson is the original owner of Corrangamite Farm in Shurugwi.

The farm has been at the centre of ownership dispute pitting Anderson and two new farmers, Frank Mbengo and Martin Farai Marikano.

And a third force comprising hundreds of villagers came into play mid last year, claiming a piece of the farm, adding to the chaos surrounding this otherwise unassuming piece of land in Shurugwi’s Totonga District.

But the gods seem to have been kind enough to Anderson: after a decade of fighting, his hand has been suddenly strengthened.

Three weeks ago, on March 8, Mbengo was unceremoniously booted from the farm as his offer letter was revoked, paving way for Anderson to repossess 704 hectares that had been earmarked for the new farmer.

Anderson repeatedly refused to speak to The Herald, saying he had no comment, before he switched off his mobile phones.

Midlands provincial chief lands officer, Joseph Shoko, has been involved in the land saga and this week he told The Herald how he was instructed by his “superiors” to let Anderson reclaim part of his farm and to revoke Dr Mbengo’s offer letter.

He explained that the farm was acquired by Government in 2004 and was subsequently subdivided to cater for A1 and A2 farmers.

“All the people moved in except for Dr Mbengo who could not because the white farmer was resisting. He resisted up until last week when I got an instruction from my superiors that dairy farms should be spared from resettlement,” he said.

Mr Shoko said the source of instruction was a “sensitive” issue.

He said the new position had not been communicated to him in writing and that “nowhere” is the policy to let dairy farmers “in black and white”.

He conceded, too, that no written communication had been made to Dr Mbengo regarding the withdrawal of his offer letter. He also said Anderson did not have an offer letter for his farm.

He explained that when the land was gazetted and subsequently subdivided, Anderson’s continued stay and activities complicated plans that had been drawn by the Surveyor General.


Dr Mbengo, who has been keen on settling on his part of the farm without success, thought March 8 would represent just another day in his protracted fight to establish his dairy business here.

He was wrong.

On the day, intent on chasing away the new settlers from his farm for which he had secured an eviction order, Dr Mbengo approached Shurugwi police for assistance.

However, as he came back with the officers, he was confronted by Mr Shoko who told him to vacate instead.

“I was disgusted,” he told The Herald.

He said he had not been warned of his impending fate and had talked to Shoko three days before who, he claimed, had encouraged him to settle down to farm.

“I could not understand why I was being chased away. We were given this land in September 2007 on the one condition that we should continue with dairy activities.

“I had always wanted a dairy farm and we proved to the authorities that we would be able to continue because we had enough resources and we could mobilise funds and technical skills,” he said.

He also had identified some partners to work with who even visited the farm to assess the resource but since 2008 he was never able to settle because of the continued occupation of the farm by Anderson.

Meanwhile, Anderson would seek to reverse the gazetting of the farm through numerous court challenges from lower courts to the Supreme Court and even the Sadc Tribunal.

The now defunct Sadc Tribunal was a kangaroo court established by anti-Zimbabwe forces to reverse the land reform programme which benefited a majority of blacks after a century of settler enforced exclusion.

Dr Mbengo simply does not understand how he has come out second best after what he believes were his best efforts.

“Several times we would go to the farm and get chased away by police and my workers were arrested several times,” he said.

After the March 8 incident, which left him shaken, options are limited for Dr Mbengo.

“I want to see the minister about the issue and I will explore all avenues, including even meeting the President,” he said.

“I do not understand why the policies of the Government and the rulings of the courts can simply be reversed like this. Why should we be chased away to pave way for the former white commercial farmers?”

At the time of writing, Mbengo had been refused audience at the responsible minister’s office.

Uneasy neighbour

There is one man that will find the turn of events tricky, even intimidating.

Dr Maynard Farai Marikano has been uneasy neighbours with John Anderson.

The two have been involved in a bitter boundary dispute that has seen violence, arrests, accusation upon counter-accusation and other skulduggery.

The dispute over the boundary line and grazing land will see Marikano lose 200ha of land, which the survey map shows to be his.

Since 2005 numerous incidents have been recorded between the two neighbours involving stray cattle, the pulling down of perimeter fences and theft.

In August 2009, Anderson allegedly drove around the farm shooting his gun in apparent act of intimidation of his rival.

The incident was reported to the police and Anderson was invited to give a statement but he never did.

In November of the same year, Marikano quarantined stray cattle from Anderson’s farm but got more than he bargained for.

He was assaulted and suffered a dislocated shoulder on top of the numerous bruises he got all over the body and had to fire a gun to disperse the assailants before the gun was wrestled from him.

He would be charged for pointing a firearm at Anderson’s son and attempted murder.

He was acquitted of the charges.

As late as last year, the pair were involved in a tussle for the farm and again Anderson’s men allegedly pulled down a perimeter fence and confiscated it.

Dr Marikano has registered numerous complaints which the police have never followed up.

A Gweru magistrate in 2011 refused to grant his application for a protection order against Anderson.

Third Force

Dr Marikano, like Mbengo, has been a target of the “third force” of villagers who settled at the farm ahead of elections last year and demanded land.

The third force has been allegedly sponsored by Anderson with the help of a Shurugwi politician and the traditional leadership there.

Ironically, the villagers have become disillusioned and have been denouncing the leadership for “using” them and not allocating them land.

“When these villagers were brought in ahead of elections, Anderson wanted to cause a confrontation between us so that it would reflect badly on the elections. That did not work,” said Dr Marikano.

There are reports that the sudden twist which saw Dr Mbengo being booted out was a result of the lobbying by local traditional leadership who, it is alleged, are close to Anderson.

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