Mat South Farm Crisis Could Fuel Violent Conflicts

By Sij Ncube 

Matobo, Thursday March 12, 2015 – Zanu (PF) is in a catch-22 situation in Matabeleland South over the intensification of farm seizures at its stronghold as party faithful vehemently resisting the take-over of prime land by President Robert Mugabe’s security agents with analysts warning of violent future conflicts in the semi-arid region.

For the past two months Matobo villagers, who presumably voted Zanu (PF) 100 per cent in the controversial July 31, 2013 polls, have been fighting tooth and nail the take-over of Maleme Ranch by state security agent, Rodney Mashingaidze who was allocated the farm last year. 

The community, including chiefs, have been flatly opposed to its acquisition, coming hardly six months after another of Mugabe’s top aids Ray Ndhlukula seized Centenary farm previously owned by commercial farmer David Conolloy.  

As the security agent muscled his way into the property, villagers armed themselves with spears, knives and knob-kerries to prevent Mugabe’s aide from gaining access to Maleme Ranch.   

However, on Tuesday 12 villagers appeared in court on allegations of kidnapping Mashingaidze’s employees but observers are adamant they are being victimised for resisting the take-over of the property owned by Peter Cunningham.

Villagers say Cunningham has been very helpful to the community by assisting them with various agricultural projects such as poultry and cattle rearing.

As pressure mounts on Mugabe to reverse the take-over with civil society organisations mulling daily protests at Maleme ranch, it has emerged more farms are targeted in the Zanu (PF) stronghold with Cyrene Mission farm reportedly under the radar of some unnamed Zanu (PF) big-wig.

Cyrene Mission, which ranks as some of its past students top politicians such as former Zanu (PF) secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and Mavambo leader Simba Makoni, is reportedly engaging the government in desperate attempts to reverse the take-over of the mission school farm.

Zanu PF officials in Matabeleland South that spoke to Radio VOP as the Maleme saga escalated claimed the seizure of the farms were part of the fulfilment of the party’s election manifesto, pointing out that instead of complaining and resisting take-over of the properties from white commercials, the villagers should be celebrating the re-distribution of land to blacks such as Mashingaidze and other security chiefs that are eying farms in the province.  

But analysts canvassed by Radio VOP noted that there appeared to be a trend of fresh farm take-overs in Matabeleland South since Mugabe’s controversial re-election in July 2013, adding that there were not surprising as the invasions were a reaction to Mugabe’s recent remarks that the remaining white owned farms must be seized. 

“Zimbabwe has lots of safaris but very few are African. Most are white-owned. In our region, we have the most safaris and animals. But we are now going to invade those forests. Our people cannot keep suffering,” Mugabe said recently. 

Dumisani Nyongolo Nkomo, whose civil society organisation is closely following the developments in Matabeleland South, warned arbitrary seizures of land for parcelling out to security agents could be a receipt for violent clashes between the new owners and local communities. 

“I am for  land re distribution but I am against injustice, blind hatred and a system that rewards a few individuals. How many people will benefit from the takeover of Maleme by Mashingaidze? Surely this injustice should not be allowed,” said Nkomo.

Welshman Ncube’s MDC came out guns blazing, also condemning the impending seizure of Maleme Ranch.

“We understand it to be government policy that the foundation of land reform is the empowerment of indigenous local communities.  It thus makes no sense that land which is fully being utilized by local indigenous communities is acquired by the State and then allocated to an individual, who is not even a local but hails from another far off corner of the country, against the interests and wishes of the entirety of the locals, including their traditional leaders, all of whom are already benefiting from the land,” the party said in a statement late on Wednesday.

“The deliberate bulldozing of Mashingaidze to take over the farm by the Zanu PF government shows a shocking disregard for the welfare, collective interests and needs of the local people and is therefore wholly unacceptable.”

The party said it stood solidly behind the people of Maleme in their fight for justice.

“So many families’ livelihoods cannot be sacrificed for the benefit of one individual. The settler mentality driving this rather bizarre action of government is hardly distinguishable from the sort of force driven occupation which underlay  colonial dispossessions and occupation of the ancestral lands of indigenous Zimbabweans.

“We are witnessing in full swing the sowing of seeds of violent future conflicts. It is obvious that those who take over land from locals in the manner happening in Maleme will not have a single peaceful sleep at night in much the same way that colonial settlers never had peaceful sleep never knowing when the people would strike at them. Not even the deployment of massive police force in support of this occupation will guarantee Mashingaidze a single peaceful night of sleep.”

Okay Machisa, the director of ZimRights whose team is monitoring the situation at Maleme Ranch , said his organisation was quite disturbed and urged the government to put people’s interest first rather than individual interests. 

“The Maleme case is very disheartening and the people have said NO. It is clear that when one person gets land where hundreds of people have been benefiting from projects and other livelihood programs the government has no people at heart. It also shows that there is no respect of the rights of the people,” said Machisa. 

Charles Mangongera, a political analyst, said although Mugabe has publicly admitted that the resettled farmers have no capacity to produce, he has also insisted that any farm still owned by a white person must be repossessed. 

“It’s a continuation of his populist posturing,” said Mangongera, in reference to the impending seizure of Maleme ranch.

But analyst caution Maleme could be Zanu PF’s waterloo in Matabeleland South come 2018 elections.