10 October 2013

Zimbabwe: Farm Wrangle Splits Mash Central

A BITTER and telling wrangle has been brewing over Tzoro Farm in Centenary, Mashonaland Central where a war veteran 'promised' the farm 10 years ago has not yet moved in and is alleging that some of his colleagues in the party are protecting the white farmer currently at the farm in possible exchange for money and beasts.

Against a background of fresh farm invasions and disruptions reported in a number of areas in the country, the Tzoro issue becomes one of the latest farm wrangles bringing to the fore the myriad irregularities punctuating the administration of the land re-distribution exercise.

George Rutanhire, a war veteran and member of the ZANU-PF Politburo, two weeks ago took matters into his own hands and ordered operations to stop at the farm in question.

Although he did not come in to occupy the contested land, the move hampered progress at the farm as a tobacco crop, which was scheduled to be planted on September 30 could not be put under the ground at the scheduled time, something which could negatively affect yields and cause considerable loss.

For two weeks -- from September 25 to October 8 -- workers at Tzoro farm downed their tools, following Rutanhire's orders that no work be carried out until the matter of occupancy at the farm had been resolved.

Meanwhile, white farmer, Guy Dollar, whose workers defied him, had been calling for them to return to work reportedly threatening not to pay them at the end of the month if they did not need his calls.

"I ordered that work be stopped at the farm and no one should work until the issue of ownership has been resolved," said Rutanhire. Following two meetings over the issue and involvement of police, lands committee, the district administrator and workers' union, it was then temporarily resolved that operations be resumed at Tzoro pending a resolution of the matter by a higher level meeting today, which the Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Douglas Mombeshora, would preside over. It is hoped that the minister would be able to put the Tzoro matter to rest.

Documents the Financial Gazette is in possession of, as well as the interviews carried out in the past two weeks point to maladministration of the land redistribution exercise as well as lack of a common position by multi-parties with warring interests.

The Tzoro wrangle exposes in particular conflicting decisions between the ruling party and the lands committee, betraying a lack of clarity on division of labour as to who allocates farms as well as double allocation of same pieces of land.

The allegations of bribes for protection for remaining whites on the farms, if true, portray the rot in the dealings of some officials entrusted with the responsibility of redistribution and allocation of parcels of land.

While it could not be established whether money is changing hands in return for protection, what is quite clear is that the remaining white farmers have become vulnerable in such highly-charged processes and environments.

Also vulnerable are unassuming workers at farms, who at times, are caught between warring sides. The dilemma for Tzoro farmers was whose orders to follow.

Although Rutanhire's orders seemed to have carried the day for the past two weeks when workers stopped working, it was to Dollar they looked to for payment and economic sustenance.

The Tzoro developments also highlight how those who already acquired land in the redistribution exercise still want more land when in fact there are some people on the waiting list for land. In the case of Rutanhire, when the 910 hectare Tzoro Farm was initially parcelled out, it was subdivided to Rutanhire and five other people, with Dollar (bringing the number of owners to seven) keeping the portion with the tobacco infrastructure. The bone of contention Rutanhire is currently raising is for the additional hectarage which Dollar is apparently supposed to vacate and make available.

But how does that all come to be?

According to an official proposed schedule for farm allocations, a copy of which the Financial Gazette has in its possession, the farm redistribution was gazetted in 2001 and allocated to Rutanhire Dollar's portion of Tzoro Farm following a decision by a Politburo committee meeting, which had reportedly been ordered by President Robert Mugabe to decide on the matter. As per procedure, the scheduling, if appended by three signatures including that of the then governor and resident minister Martin Dinha, was supposed to be followed by an offer letter, which more than 10 years later has not been issued out to Rutanhire.

Although the redistribution is scheduled under number 069/2013, Dinha and two other parties, chief lands officer O.Chirapa and Provincial Administrator J.T. Jaji whose names appear on the schedule, have all not signed it.

While provincial party officials confirm and insist that the party (ZANU-PF) agreed that Rutanhire move onto said land, there is inaction on the part of Dinha and officials in the lands committee.

Instead, at least two other people, newcomers to the issue, have been issued with offer letters for the same land, thereby complicating an already contentious issue. Yet incumbent 'owner' of the farm Dollar, remains resident at the farm.

In claims which this paper could not immediately establish, Rutanhire suspects that bribes in the form of money and beast are exchanging hands.

"Kana vari kudya na Dollar ikoko hamheno zvavo, inini I should get my farm. I have waited for too long," Rutanhire said.

Although legally it is the ministry of lands which is the sole allocating authority, party provincial chairperson, Dickison Mafiosi, said the party allocated the farm to Rutanhire.

"As a party we already made a decision that the farm be given to Rutanhire. I am not sure where the hold up is. The lands committee is the one which should ensure the decision is taken through to implementation," said Mafiosi, before referring this writer to Dinha.

Asked to comment, Dinha said, "If somebody has an offer letter for the farm, let them produce it. People without an offer letter have no room to talk. We already have other people with offer letters to the same land and we are meeting everyone on Thursday (last week) to discuss the matter."

Dinha said people should know that there should be law and order on the farms. Only the lands committee can issues offer letters, he said.

Asked to respond to the allegations of whether or not he was protecting Dollar for personal gain, Dinha told this writer that he would sue people over this issue.

"I see myself ndichisungisa vanhu, I hope you (meaning this writer) are not one of the people I will sue over this," Dinha said.

After countless fruitless efforts to reach him, Dollar only said "Everything at the farm is fine. Thank you," before hanging up the phone.

A letter dated 28 September 2013 from Dollar to the chairman of the lands committee, the Minister of State in the President's Office (Didymus Mutasa) and copied to Minister of Lands and Resettlement (Mombeshora), minister of local government, Ignatius Chombo, among others, depicts a concerning level of distress.

"... As my crops are needing water and attention and seedlings going (sic) to waste I urgently ask for your attention on this matter," the letter reads.

In the past two weeks, two meetings were held over the matter -- one on Thursday last week, which Dinha chaired and another on Monday this week, which junior officers from the provincial lands committee chaired. It is hoped today's meeting with the minister will be the last on the matter.

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