Former president Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace are leasing out land they controversially seized from Interfresh Holdings Ltd's Mazowe citrus estate a few years ago to local businessman Hamish Rudland, exposing their counterproductive posturing and double standards while still in power, investigations show.
The seizure of Interfresh's citrus estate, the group's prime land asset, by Grace, blocked external lines of credit to the firm as traditional financiers, including the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, feared their investments were at risk while the company struggled for survival.
The property being leased to Rudland is part of several farms grabbed by the Mugabe family for themselves, relatives and cronies.
This comes amid revelations the state has been compensating some farm owners or companies for the loss of land through Treasury Bills (TBs). The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) is also said to have also funded land compensation for some influential people.
In the absence of access to external development finance, the 2017 national budget borrowing requirements have mainly been funded from the domestic market through TBs and recourse to the RBZ overdraft. During the period January to September 2017, Treasury issued government instruments worth US$1,8 billion in the form of TBs and bonds.
Investigations by the Zimbabwe Independent this week showed Mugabe sometime back sent emissaries to Glenara Estates for negotiations to lease his farm to them. His envoys told management that they wanted a meeting, which then resulted in consultations between Michael Coulson, the general manager of the estate owned by CFI Holdings, Rudland and the former president's envoys. This culminated in a joint venture in which Mugabe got 5% of turnover.
Rudland, a major shareholder in CFI Holdings, this week confirmed entering into a deal with the Mugabe family at a time they were discouraging and even threatening mostly new land owners from working with white farmers or entrepreneurs.
"We were approached by the former president through his people with a view to helping him run the estate after the success of our Glenara Estates," Rudland said. "I think he was impressed by what he had seen at Glenara and from where we sit, we couldn't say no. Who could have said no to his request? But it is a purely commercial transaction on our part; nothing else. We were and we still are not involved in politics in anyway, as we are businesspeople or investors."
Mugabe's wife in 2013/2014 mounted a fierce land grab of Interfresh estates that ravaged the business, leaving it with a negligible amount of arable land and teetering on the brink of collapse.
Interfresh, which had total land holdings of 3 800 hectares, lost 870 hectares; accounting for 23% of its Mazowe land holdings. This left the company with 2 930 hectares. Of the 3 800 hectares, only 1 067 hectares were arable. The Mugabe family grabbed 414 hectares (39%) of arable land, leaving Interfresh with 653 hectares (61%).
Mugabe, who seized vast tracts of land from Interfresh, a once-thriving enterprise listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, is said to have "invited" Rudland into the farming joint venture after failing utilise the seized land.
The former president, who championed the land seizures of white commercial farmers at the turn of the century, is on record as attacking Zanu PF officials leasing land back to whites, accusing them of attempting to reverse the gains of the land reform programme.
A drive past the farm in Mazowe this week showed that the property is now being fully utilised, with some state-of-the-art irrigation equipment on site and operations running. A year after taking the farm, the Mugabe family turned the once-productive property into some largely derelict land.
Grace early this year tried to seize the iconic Mazowe Dam for personal use and barred villages from accessing the facility after taking over Manzou Farm within the same area and displaced hundreds of resettled families.
The Mugabe family's Mazowe empire includes an opulent double-storey mansion on Mapfeni Farm, which can be seen from Manzou Farm where Grace had been evicting thousands of villagers since 2011 reportedly to establish a game park.
There is also a dairy farm, orphanage and a school. She is planning to build a US$1 billion university named after Mugabe using public funds. The Mugabe family, relatives and cronies have at least 13 farms, becoming part of the new land aristocracy ushered in by government's chaotic land reform programme which began in 2000 purportedly to give land to landless blacks.
The family and its cronies owns Gushungo Estates (4 046 hectares) in Mazowe; Gushungo Dairies (1 000 hectares); Iron Mask Estate in Mazowe (1 046 hectares); Sigaru Farm in Mazowe (873 hectares); Gwebi Wood (1 200 hectares) in Mazowe; Gwina Farm in Mazowe (1 445 hectares); Leverdale Farm in Banket (1 488 hectares); and Highfield Farm in Banket (445hacatres). In Norton, they own Cressydale Estate (676 hectares); Tankatara Farm (575 hectares); John O'Groat Farm (760 hectares); Clifford Farm (1 050 hectares) and Bassiville (1 200 hectares).
Total land holdings owned by Mugabe's family and their relatives total 15 809 hectares.
Mugabe's sister Sabina owned three farms, namely Mlembwe Farm (1 037 hectares) in Makonde, Longwood Farm (924 hectares) in Makonde and Gowrie Farm in Norton measuring 430 hectares. His nephew Leo Mugabe reportedly owns two farms, Diandra (815 hectares) in Darwendale and Nangadza (1 200 hectares) Journey's End in Mhangura.
Mugabe's late brother-in-law Reward Marufu, Grace's brother, owned three farms including Leopards Vlei in Glendale (1 294 hectares) and Kachere Farm 880 hectares in Mazowe.
TBs have been used to pay owners of some seized land, fuelling the current fiscal crisis.
Of the US$1,75 billion TBs issued to September 2017, US$386,5 million financed government programmes, while US$1,1 billion was channelled towards servicing legacy debts. Budget deficit financing through direct borrowing from the central bank amounted to US$393,4 million. The increasing mismatch between revenues and expenditures will necessitate further borrowing of US$940 million during the last quarter of 2017.
During his budget presentation in parliament yesterday, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said: "The current trend and manner of issuance of Treasury Bills is unsustainable, and has not only led to mounting interest payment obligations, but now also poses significant risk of resurgence of macro-economic instability."