Luke Tembani, 74, one of the first black commercial farmers after Zimbabwean independence in 1980, lost the title to his farm in November 2000 when it was unilaterally auctioned by the Agricultural Bank of Zimbabwe (ABZ) to cover a loan.
Despite Tembani’s proposal to sell off a section of the farm to cover the debt, his entire property was sold to a third party at a fraction of its value.
Tembani took his case to the High Court of Zimbabwe, which ruled in his favour, but the ABZ appealed to the Supreme Court – many of whose members have been recipients of “redistributed” farms – and in November 2007 the sale was upheld.
Tembani took his case to the SADC Tribunal in Windhoek, Namibia, where it was heard on June 5 2009.
He won the case and the Zimbabwe government was ordered not to evict him and to stop interfering with his use and occupation of the farm.
But in October 2009 Tembani and his family were evicted and prevented from taking any farm equipment. Now virtually destitute, they want justice.
Tembani’s first job in 1954 was as a gardener. He later enrolled at Chibero Agricultural College in Norton, becoming a farm manager on a dairy farm in the Nyazura district, where he worked for 18 years.
After independence, Tembani acquired a five-year lease on Minverwag, a 1265-hectare property in Nyazura, with an option to buy. The farmer, Helgard Muller, gave him a free lease to help him get established.
The Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC), subsequently renamed the Agriculture Bank of Zimbabwe (ABF), provided a loan and in 1985 Tembani became the registered owner.
He served on the Rural District Council and the Indigenous Commercial Farmers’ Union.
Tembani built Minverwag up into a profitable enterprise, comprising 100ha of tobacco, 80ha of maize, 10ha of paprika and 40ha of wheat/soya rotation. He increased his beef herd to 600 animals and developed a pig unit and an ostrich project.
In 1986 Tembani decided to build a school and the following year opened Chimwanda Primary School, with free schooling for 321 pupils.
He also improved staff housing and built a church hall.
During the 1990s, when interest rates escalated sharply and there were serious national droughts, Tembani ran into financial difficulties. After meeting with the AFC, he arranged to sell off a viable 418ha of the farm as a subdivision in 1996.
The AFC agreed that this would cover his debt and buyers were found while they waited for the title deeds to be issued.
But the renamed ABZ reneged on the arrangement, auctioning the property in November 2000 for Z$6-million – even though an independent valuator valued the farm at Z$15-million.
“Only two buyers were present and the farm was sold to Takawira Zembe, a businessman who only paid 10% at the auction and who is believed to have as many as 18 farming enterprises in the country, gained in this way,” said Tembani.
After the eviction, Zembe refused to let his twins attend the school unless Tembani ceded total ownership of the farm to Zembe and withdrew his appeal against the eviction.
“Zembe is not operating Minverwag as a commercial farming enterprise but has cut it into plots for peasant farmers who are paying him for the use of the land,” Tembani said.
In April this year, Tembani joined commercial farmer Mike Campbell in signing papers to take the SADC heads of state to the tribunal for the suspension.
But Tembani was denied access to the tribunal to claim damages against the Zimbabwean government for refusing to comply with his SADC judgment.
The family now live in basic rented accommodation and are without an income.
“As I speak to you, at the age of 74, I’m sitting on an old stool with nothing, despite all the years of hard work,” said Tembani. “We live hand-to-mouth selling little bags of sugar and other basics in a difficult and competitive environment, instead of contributing to food security.
“My wife and I want our farm back but right now it’s too political,” he said with regret.