More than 150 farm-workers and their families have been rendered homeless following last week's forceful eviction of a white commercial farmer, Robert Smart, from his property by armed police and a gang of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party youths outside Rusape town.
The tobacco and maize grower was evicted to reportedly pave way for a top cleric, Trevor Manhanga, who has links with Mugabe's party, despite opposition from the local community under the Tandi chieftainship.
The Tandi people argued that allowing Manhanga to occupy the farm would violate the cultural rights as there were sacred shrines in Smart's farm.
Following Smart's eviction from Lesbury Estates, anti-riot police reportedly assaulted and arrested some of the farm-workers, who were guarding their employer's household property that had been dumped on the roadside. In no time, the labourers were allegedly kicked out of their compound by the police and "armed men" that are now occupied the farm.
Harsh weather conditions
Most of Smart's workers and their families sought refuge in the bush and nearby mountains - exposed to harsh weather conditions.
"Our houses in the farm compound were destroyed by police and the armed men led by Joseph Mujati (Zanu-PF deputy chairperson for Manicaland Province). We have nowhere to go," said one of the displaced workers Clifford Nyauso.
Another displaced farm employee, Farai Mapako, 44, told News24 that Mujati and his colleagues had told them to stay away from the farm.
"Mujati came to us accompanied by six other armed men and told us not to set foot at Lesbury. Now we are sleeping here in the bush because we are afraid that they can shoot us if we go back to the compound," said Mapako.
Mapako added that most of his colleagues had asked nearby villagers to help in storing their household properties.
"Most of our property was destroyed when we were forcefully moved out of the compound. Some of the property is still missing and we are losing some of it to thieves who are targeting us at night here in the bush. Some of us have since relocated our property into the mountains because we have nowhere to store it," he added.
'We are hungry
Women and children were the most vulnerable, according to Mapako's 35 year-old wife Edith.
"We have no access to sanitary pads and we are finding it difficult to take a bath here in the bush. We are fetching drinking water from the river and the water from the river is dirty because cattle from the nearby villages are also drinking water from the same river," she said.
Edith's son, Clemence, 11, said that since they were all evicted from the farm compound, he and many others were not going to school.
"How can we concentrate in class when we are hungry? I do not even know where my school uniform is and I am afraid that if I go to school the armed men that I saw harassing my parents can come after me," said Clemence.
Twenty-seven- year-old Chipo Sautsane, who lived with HIV/Aids, alleged that her anti-retroviral drugs were lost when they were moved off the Lesbury compound, adding that accessing new drugs from the local clinic was now difficult for her.
"I know of more than 10 people who have stopped taking their drugs, including me, because we can't access them. Our allocation of anti-retroviral drugs and medical record went missing during the evictions and authorities at the nearby clinic are telling us that we have to bring those records that correspond with the dates listed in their files for us to be able to get the ARVs. What this means is that we are defaulting in taking drugs," said Sautsane.
Most of the evicted farm-workers appealed to Mugabe's government to allow their former employer to return to the farm, saying working at Lesbury Estates was their only source of livelihood.
'I have title deeds'
"We used to get food rations from Smart and he can't afford to do that anymore because of his ejection from the farm. He can't even get access to us now to give us some food here in the bush because he doesn't know where we are and he might also be afraid to come here," added Sautsane.
For his part, Smart said he was negotiating with the government for him to be allowed to return to the farm so that he could continue with his farming business.
"I do not take the workers as my employees. Me and them are a family as we all grew up here and have known no other place," said Smart.
Smart said what pained him most was that Manhanga wanted to grab his farm and yet he had other properties.
"I have title deeds to this farm and it's a shame that Manhanga is interested in this farm yet he has other properties in Mutare. I surrendered other properties to the government when it embarked on land reforms and I was only left with Lesbury Estates."Lands Minister Douglas Mombeshora refused to comment.