By Sij Ncube
March 16, 2015 – The weather was hot on Sunday morning and so were tempers at Induna Primary School in Matobo, Matabeleland South.
But anger swiftly turned into too much joy after a traditional leader chief Masuku announced that the government has ordered a senior state intelligence official to vacate Maleme Ranch.
“We say congratulations,” said Masuku, sparking a frenzy.
Villagers ululated, danced and gyrated in celebration to the reversal of the take-over of Maleme Ranch which has been benefited at least 800 families.
The farm, which has been an integral part of their livelihoods, had been allocated to a government spy Rodney Mashingaidze but its take-over was vehemently opposed by the villagers, leading to twelve of them being arrested and arraigned before the courts.
The ranch, owned by commercial farmer Peter Cunningham 69 kilometres from Bulawayo along Kezi, houses Shalom Campsite and Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre.
Ebenezer has student enrolment of 80 including students on attachment from universities and polytechnic colleges. About 15 tonnes of tomatoes are produced per two days which are consumed in Bulawayo and Midlands. The college also produces 30 tonnes of chicken meat every week which is delivered to Bulawayo and Midlands.
Traditional leaders bandied together with villagers in campaigning against the seizure of the property by Mashingaidze as it was felt it would disempower the community which has been benefiting from Cunninham’s generosity and benevolence.
Cunningham does ranching and grows vegetables. He also teaches locals how to keep chicken, grow tomatoes and cattle-rearing.
Shalom campsite supply 20 000 point of lay eggs chicken every 17 weeks to people in the region and in Midlands. Plans are afoot to run 60 000 chickens a month. The campsite has cannoning, fishing and horse riding facilities and three quarters of clergymen were ordained at Shalom.
Last year Shalom campsite hosted over 2000 pastor. Local schools are beneficiaries of Maleme farm and locals depend on the farm vehicles to ferrying the sick or the dead.
In 2007 Cunningham commissioned a five kilometre dam at a tune of $700 000 and upgraded 18km road at a cost of $18 000 for the benefit of the locals.
There is a project called Turning Matabeleland Green hence the sharp resistance to the take-over of the property and the celebrations which ensued as Vice President Phelekezela Mpoko’s entourage snaked out of Maleme after what has been described a people victory.
Villagers partied at a nearby shopping centre in celebrated of their triumph with some drinking themselves silly.
But analysts viewed the “victory” as symbolising people power, a development they predicted would cascade to other provinces of the country as communities resist forcibly seizure of private properties by the political connected.
“We are slowly seeing the ZANU-PF excesses facing checkmate from people power,” said Charles Hungwe, a political analyst who closely follows the country’s political development.
“Slowly Zimbabweans will realize that the more they have tolerated ZANU PF excesses the more those excesses have increased. The point of desperation has arrived and this Maleme case represents a microcosm of what we may see across Zimbabwe – people resisting political manipulation and abuses,” he said.
Critics note that the show of people power in Maleme ranch interestingly happened at a time that ZANU PF is disunited and fragmented.
The internal strife in ZANU PF, in which President Robert Mugabe faces his sterner challenge at the helm of the party from disgruntled former side-kicks such as former secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa and former party spokesman Rugare Gumbo, could aid the people power drive, analysts predict.
“The temptation of the state will be to use force, but that will be a blunder – rather the State needs to win-back the hearts of the people – which again is a late consideration given where things are. However ultimately, what happened at Maleme will happen in different pockets of the country until it becomes a nation-wide evolution,” said Hungwe.
Thabani Moyo, another political analyst, added his voice on perceived people power likely to rock the country’s politics.
Moyo say Zimbabwe at this stage is tired of politicking and the people were now expressing disdain in selfish leadership, be it the ruling party or the opposition.
“The people want a leadership that is rooted in their realities and the current challenge is of a detached leadership in the government and the opposition and in such situations people are forced to be leaders by themselves,” he said.
Political analyst Charles Mangongera said the developments at Maleme ranch were clearly a demonstration of the power that the people have but are not using.
“The government was forced to reverse the takeover because they could see that these people were organised and resolute. We need more of that citizen agency if this country is to change for the better,” he said.
Dumisani Nkomo, the director of Hubakkuk Trust weighed in, saying the community deserves to be praised for its resilience through and through the Maleme saga.
“This is a victory for common sense at long last. It is also a victory for Matabeleland as a region ,the Christian community , civil society and the nation as a whole as the livelihoods of thousands of people were being threatened,” said Nkomo.
Villagers of Figtree also in Matabeleland South hope the same people power should prevail to stop Mugabe’s other aide, Ray Ndhlukula from taking over Centenary farm owned by commercial farmer David Connolly. Ndhlukula has moved his property and equipment into the farm after allegedly chasing away Connolly’s workers.
The matter has spilled to the courts with Connolly charging that Ndhluku was a multiple farm owner in Matabeleland South.
Meanwhile, parents and villagers want the government to stop the impending seizure of Cyrene Mission Farm and already plans are reportedly afoot to launch a similar non-violence campaign in Matabeleland South to save the school from Mugabe’s controversial land reforms.
The resistance to the take-over of Maleme resonates with a recent decision by Masvingo provincial affairs minister Shuva Mahofa to bar Tourism minister Walter Mzembi from muscling his way into white-owned hatchery that produces 100 000 day-old chickens per week.
The farm, owned by Hellen Mitchell, is located 20kilometres east of Masvingo city.