Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's recent call for his supporters to "kick out" all remaining white commercial farmers from their properties has triggered a new wave of land invasions in the southern African country.
Mugabe, 93, told a rally in Marondera two weeks ago that all white commercial farmers who remained on the farms should be kicked out to allow his party's young supporters, who did not gain land during the country's chaotic land reforms in 2000, to get some.
Following the nonagenarian's statement, a top cleric, Trevor Manhanga, with links to the ruling Zanu-PF party, has been accused by villagers of grabbing land in Manicaland, ahead of Mugabe's visit to the province on Friday.
Manhanga, an Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe bishop, was on Tuesday dragged to the High Court by villagers from the Makoni district of Manicaland, about 30km west of Rusape town.
The villagers accused the clergyman of grabbing Lesbury Farm, owned by Robert Smart, in order to erect a church on shrines that the villagers said were sacred, court papers showed.
The court papers also showed that Land Minister Douglas Mombeshora had given Manhanga permission to occupy the land, despite a report - compiled by the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe - showing that the Machinya Hills, located on the property, had archaeological sites that could attract tourists.
The villagers, led by Peter Tandi, argued that the archeological sites were protected in terms of the country's laws, including the national constitution, that protect cultural rights. The villagers said that they performed their cultural rituals at the Machinya Hills on a yearly basis, with financial support from Smart.
Tandi and others were now seeking an interdict against the land minister - as well as Manhanga, David Nyakonda and William Samhungu (the incumbent chief) - who were given official letters to occupy the disputed property.
Tandi said he had approached Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, with a view to stopping Manhanga from grabbing the farm, but to no avail.
"Manhanga also has the support of [Manicaland Provincial Affairs Minister] Mandi Chimene to grab the property," said Tandi.
Meanwhile, some workers at the farm accused Manhanga of roping in Rusape police officers to "terrorise" Smart, resulting in the police firing gunshots to disperse angry villagers who had gathered at the property in support of the white commercial farmer.
"The police forced open a safe that contained Smart's money and went away with $75 000 meant for the payment of workers' salaries," claimed a source at the farm.
Reports this week indicated that some Zanu-PF party heavyweights and the military had "invaded" parts of a farm where one of the leading agricultural training institutes in southern Africa, Blackfordby College of Agriculture, was situated.