29 December 2012

Zimbabwe: 70 Hectares Maize Destroyed in Land Dispute

OVER 70 hectares of maize belonging to about 55 A1 farmers were last week destroyed by a white commercial farmer in Mazowe in a land dispute. Mr Peep Mattison of Tavydale Farm, about 18 kilometres north of Nyabira, destroyed the crops and planted his tobacco on the 995-hectare farm.

The A1 farmers derive legitimacy of occupancy from offer letters signed by the district administrator, while Mr Mattison has a letter from the Governor and Resident Minister's Office for Mashonaland Central Province Advocate Martin Dinha saying the farm was covered under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.

Mazowe district administrator Mrs Shelter Nyakudya confirmed signing offer letters for the farmers.

"We sign offer letters for A1 farmers as district administrators and in this case when I signed the confirmation letters in March this year, the issue of BIPPA had not yet been raised," said Mrs Nyakudya.

Governor Dinha's letter is dated December 12, 2012 and came after the local MP, Cde Richard Chirongwe (Zanu-PF), made inquiries regarding the status of the farm.

One of the affected farmers, Mr Felix Mshambodza said they accessed some of the inputs through the Presidential Well-wishers Scheme to supplement the inputs they bought with loans from commercial banks.

Mr Mattison destroyed the crops despite losing a High Court bid to evict them November.

When The Herald visited the farm yesterday, destroyed maize plants could be seen strewn around while Mr Mattison's tobacco was thriving.

The A1 farmers accused some politicians in the province of protecting the white commercial farmer.

"We have loans that we had accessed from commercial banks on the strength of these offer letters, payable when we have harvested. What are we going to do to repay these loans?" said Mr Mshambodza.

Another farmer, Mr Gabelan Kanakembizi, said they enrolled their children at a local school after being allocated land at the farm.

"We had even registered to vote at the farm, meaning we had transferred our names from various constituencies to this farm," he said.

The farmers accused Mr Mattison of misleading authorities as the property was not in his name, but in the name of Mr Charles De Burbure, a Belgian who left in 2000 at the height of the fast-track land reform programme.

When contacted, Mr Mattison said: "I had pre-irrigated the area, applied chemicals for tobacco, only for these people to come and plant their crops. I now have to plant my tobacco out of time. I am very disappointed."

He said the farmers had wrongly been allocated offer letters since the farm was protected under BIPPA.

In his judgment, Justice Francis Bere castigated Government officials for failing to speak with one voice.

"This case represents a very sad state of affairs on the part of the Minister as the acquiring authority of land in this country and the other ancillary Government departments in land allocation and distribution. They are not able to speak with one voice and they have been sending conflicting signals to the occupiers of Tavydale Farm. This approach does not bring transparency to the whole land regime in this country," said Justice Bere in his judgement handed early this month.

The court upheld submission by the A1 farmers that they took occupation of the land in question in 2011 and had a peaceful harvest.

"That evidence has not been controversed by the applicant. In fact the applicant is not in a position to controvert that because if it was able to, it could have done so through its founding papers and possibly through supplementary affidavit since the farmers made it clear that they took peaceful occupation of the farm back in 2011."

The judge proceeded to rule that the case was not urgent.

In his letter Governor Dinha wrote to the local Member of Parliament, Cde Richard Chirongwe that the farm was covered under BIPPA and no resettlement should be done.

"We have been directed by the Principal to ensure that there are no disruptions of whatever nature on the farm and that the management of Tavydale should continue with their farming operations. We have been further directed to stop any other resettlement and farming activities on the farm," wrote Adv Dinha in a letter dated December 11 2012.

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