18 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Transcript of Diaspora Diaries Interview With Mashonaland West Farmer Piet Zwanikken

Alex Bell: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to Diaspora Diaries on SW Radio Africa, Zimbabwe's independent voice. I'm Alex Bell and welcome to the show tonight. Well we're doing things a little differently tonight and we'll have a special edition and we'll be hearing from a Mashonaland West farmer who was shot in the face on his Banket property on Monday night and is now in hospital recovering. We'll also hear from Justice For Agriculture about this latest horrific violence against the farming community.

Well first up tonight, Dutch national and Mashonaland West farmer Piet Zwanikken was rushed to hospital on Monday night after a man, known to be working for a CIO agent who wants the farm, shot him in the face. Zwanikken says he's lucky to be alive after escaping an assassination attempt. Just hours ago he spoke to me from his hospital bed and explained what led to the shooting on Monday night.

Piet it's an absolutely horrific ordeal that you've gone through and I'm sure you must think yourself very lucky to be alive after that shooting incident. But maybe you can explain to us what actually happened? What actually, first of all, led to this incident and what happened last night?

Okay what's been happening on the farm is that an A2 (settler) had an offer letter and he's been trying to force me, um, take over the farm. When he didn't get his way through the court, we went and got a court order against him from disturbing us. He then tried to go through the Lands (Ministry) to try and get me convicted and thrown off. When we saw that the progress wasn't going that well there, then I think these guys made a plan to try and assassinate me.

 So you do think that this was an assassination attempt?


 So what actually happened last night? This happened in the evening on the property?

On the property at my gate, the three guys who I know well, are A1 farmers and they work for this A2 to the degree that they're helping him to try and remove me from the property. They called me to the gate and I went out with a torch so I clearly could identify all three of them. I said yes, what do you want? The shooter was a guy called Macheka and he started to tell me a story about some of my tobacco being stolen and I think it was just a ploy to try and get me closer to the actual gate, maybe even to open it. I didn't realize he had a handgun behind his back and when I didn't come closer, all of a sudden there was just, out of the corner of my eye, a flash, a big bang and he took a shot at point blank range, probably about a metre away. Thank God I turned my head. The round went through my nose and grazed my cheek at which time, my son was there as well, we both just we yelled and ran back to the house. We were so lucky that that bullet didn't kill me.

Now I know that you are of course now are in hospital and you had to be rushed to hospital. What was going through your mind during that journey to the hospital?

All I just can't believe how lucky I am still to be alive you know. Yah, it's a terrible situation to be in because apparently the three guys have already been rounded up but they're saying they weren't anywhere around, they had nothing to do with what happened yesterday.

This is despite both you and your son seeing them very clearly?

Yes, yes, we're both witnesses to the fact. I think these guys thought if they killed me there would be no more, there would be no witness to actually what happened.

Now you say you do know all these people involved and who is this A2 beneficiary then who's been harassing you? Do you know who he is and is he definitely responsible do you think for what's going on?

Yes his name is Charles Mupanduki; he apparently is CIO and I know that he's been seen carrying a side arm at the farm but he's very careful not to get involved directly. He uses these A1 farmers to do all the dirty work but I have no doubt in my own mind that he is somewhere in the back of the scene organizing things because he said so, in actual fact during one of our cases, that all these guys actually work for him and they operate under his orders.

How are you feeling now than? There must be a certain amount of fear and apprehension - if they've gone this far in what appears a deliberate assassination, a deliberate hit, how do you feel now?

Yes well obviously we're shaken and I'm hoping that the law will take its course in this case. Yah I'll have to be very careful and probably run my farm from a distance for a while.

It must be very hard for you of course because you are a Dutch national and you are supposed to be protected by a bi-lateral agreement. Are you surprised then that something like this agreement has been ignored in this way?

Absolutely not. A lot of these BIPAs were never honoured in the first place so it's absolutely no surprise that somebody took a liking to my farm and decided well, 'we'll get it at all costs'.

How long have you been on the farm, if I may ask?

I have been there for 15 years and I took over from my father-in-law by Order of Cessation in 2002. The farm at that time was not acquired.

And when did this process of intimidation and threats against you begin?

Yes that started with the Ministry of Lands came in January with this guy with an offer letter to say 'well you should wind up your operations this year because this guy's going to take over, he's now going to be the legal owner of the farm', a portion of it anyway. And when I refused to budge, the legal action started to take place at the end of July where we were locked out of our gates. They tried the old jambanja tactics. They actually took over the farm in August for a few days in which we lost $10 000 worth of equipment and we only got back into control by a Peace Order which they then went to ignore and finally when we got a Contempt of Court order against them, that's when they finally realised well they can't actually interfere with me otherwise they'll go to jail. That seemed to work at the time.

Is there a next step that you can take at the moment? I would imagine that this has already been reported to the police - do you think that the rule of law will be successful in this case?

I'm hoping that they will take action, appropriate action and that in this case, the rule of law will be applied to. As regards to what will happen in the future - that I can't tell you but I certainly intend to continue farming.

Well that was Piet Zwanikken. He's a farmer from Mashonaland West who's also a Dutch national that was shot in the face on his property on Monday night. Now as you can hear, Mr. Zwanikken has had surgery on his face after the bullet went through his nose and grazed his cheek. He of course agrees that he is very lucky to be alive.

We will be bringing you more news on this incident as we go forward. For now though let's focus on some of the reaction coming from the farming community. The Commercial Farmers Union has already absolutely slammed this attack on the farmer and just expressed its concern for what is happening and urged farmers across the country to be safe. I also caught up with John Worsley-Worswick from Justice for Agriculture who gave this reaction to this latest violent attack on a member of the farming community.

Yes (I'm) very sad and alarmed but certainly not surprised to hear this. We have been expecting it for some time; we've been monitoring an escalation of pressure being brought to bear on farmers who are still out there. That's to be expected; farmers have always taken the brunt of political attack especially in the lead up to elections so that's par for the course on this one. We have been privy to a hit list which has involved, we're told, two farmers on it and that was declared that this was to have maximum effect and ripple effects through the communities. This shooting, we're very fortunate that it's not a murder of another farmer and he's very fortunate to have got away with his life, but he has been politically targeted with a view to getting him off the farm and it's on the back of frustrations of the perpetrators who have been trying to get him off the farm and it does involve chefs. Every indication is that it is a political chef driving it. They're legally frustrated in that the legal action, some of which has been initiated by them, has failed and has resulted in them getting added legal protection in terms of a Peace Order over himself and the property. And it's on the back of that as well as the frustration that they've gone to this length to get rid of him.

John we're talking about someone who is a Dutch citizen; there's been a lot of developments regarding the Dutch for, the most notable of course there's been a group of Dutch farmers who've made quite an international stir over legal, an outstanding legal case that they have with the Zim government. Any thoughts as to how this could be related? Is there any suspicion that this could be related?

Yes indeed; certainly there has been, historically there have been a lot of legal action taken by Dutch farmers. The case in the international arbitration court at the World Bank by the Dutch farmers, won their case, eleven Dutch farmers won their case and they still, the Zimbabwe government to agree to the time to pay them out something to the tune of 13 million Euros, they've failed to do that. Further legal action is being taken as we speak to recover that compensation. But it's not confined to that; the Dutch Embassy here has been quite vociferous of late, in condemnation of what is happening in the country and it certainly fits in terms of retribution and vindictive action and it fits, or seems to fit.

A final comment then John; we've spoken before about things like BIPAs, these bi-lateral investment protection agreements - it seems that it's an on-going situation where this doesn't offer any form of protection in Zimbabwe. Does this put Zimbabwe further out of line with anything like international investment?

Yes indeed and at a time like this when a country desperately needs that investment to try and limp forward. But there hasn't been respect for those BIPA agreements and it's come back to bite them through legal actions. And the big legal action at the moment is in the courts and they're coming to fruition hopefully in February in Singapore, is the (inaudible) action, again in international arbitration court under the World Bank and obviously this is becoming more and more a thorn in the government's side - the fact that they did target these farms and continue to target them.

Well that was John Worsley-Worswick from Justice for Agriculture. That just about brings us to the end of tonight's special edition of Diaspora Diaries and thank you very much for joining me. Don't forget that at any time you can email me on alex@swradioafrica.com or you can follow me on Twitter on @albell88 if you'd like to make any comments or queries about the show. Don't forget go to the web site at any time - that's www.swradioafrica.com. There are more details about this attack on Piet Zwanikken as well as all other news available on line. I guess I'll be saying goodnight now, thank you very much for joining me. So from me Alex Bell, goodnight.

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