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February 05, 2009

Zimbabwean judge in fight for farm with president’s family

by Wayne Mafaro

A Zimbabwe High Court judge has accused President Robert Mugabe’s family of using political muscle to wrestle a farm allocated to him during the land seizures. Court documents filed on November 10 last year show that High Court Judge Ben Hlatshwayo had been allocated Gwina Farm, located in Banket, Zvimba District, in Mashonaland West province and measures approximately 580 hectares.

Hlatshwayo’s affidavit exposes Mugabe and his family as multiple farm owners through their company Gushungo Holdings that carries out farming activities at Mazowe Farm, Sigaro Farm, Leverdale Farm and Bassiville Farm. Gushungo Holdings is cited as the first respondent and the Minister of State for National Security, Land Reform and Resettlement is cited as the second respondent.

Hlatshwayo said that the “unlawful conduct” by Gushungo Holdings amounted to spoliation and that service of the application was likely to lead to “more perverse conduct with serious consequences for stability at the farm, security and safety of equipment and processes.” He said he was invited to a meeting with State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa who informed him that his farm was required by Grace Mugabe.

“At the meeting which was attended by ministers Mutasa, Patrick Chinamasa (Justice) and Joseph Made (Agricultural Mechanisation), I was informed that the farm was required by the First Lady (Grace Mugabe), and that attempts would be made to secure for me alternative land,” said Hlatshwayo. Since then, emissaries of the First Lady have been frequenting the farm and issuing out instructions to workers, the documents say.

“There is clearly no lawful basis for such interference which conduct, by its very nature amounts to spoliation. It is obvious that 1st Respondent (Gushungo Holdings), in particular, is intent upon imposing his will regardless of observing due process of the law, and that in doing so, appears to be bringing the name of the First lady of Zimbabwe into disrepute,” said Hlatshwayo.

“Additionally, and as is manifest and/or implied from the Founding Affidavit, this application has underlying political overtones, the nature of which is likely to give risk to preserve conduct on the part of, in particular, 1st Respondent,” the affidavit said.In his opposing affidavit, Mutasa said that Hlatshwayo had been allocated alternative land at ARDA Transau, Mutare District.

For the 2008/9 agricultural season, Hlatshwayo has been contracted under National Foods’ Security Champion Farmer Programme to plant 200 hectares of commercial maize, which is in line with “national effort to end the hunger currently ravishing the land.” He is also under contract with seed-making company Seed Co to plant 50 hectares of seed maize, 30 hectares of seed soya and 40 hectares of seed sorghum.

The matter has not been given a date for hearing.

Zimbabwe’s 43-year-old First Lady was in the headlines two weeks ago after she allegedly assaulted a free-lance photographer for taking pictures of her while she was shopping in Hong Kong in an incident said to have been caught on CCTV cameras.

Hlatshwayo chaired the commission that drew up a constitution that was rejected in a referendum in 2000, handing Mugabe's first electoral defeat, which presaged the start of the land invasions weeks later. The High Court judge has been operating Gwina Farm in “quiet, undisturbed, peaceful possession, occupation and production” since December 2002 after he forced off its owner, Vernon Nicol who is now in Australia, at the height of Mugabe’s often violent farm seizures.

Once a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe economic crisis and food shortages that Mugabe blames on poor weather and Western sanctions he says have hampered importation of fertilizers, seed, and other farming inputs. Critics blame Zimbabwe's troubles on repression and wrong polices by Mugabe such as his land reforms that displaced established white commercial farmers and replaced them with either incompetent or inadequately funded black farmers leading to a massive drop in farm production.

Out of about 4 500 white commercial farmers in Zimbabwe in 2000, only about 300 remain on farms after Mugabe evicted the rest and parcelled out their land to blacks, most of them supporters of his ZANU PF party and government. Mugabe has defended the farm seizures as necessary to correct a colonial land tenure system that reserved most of the best arable land for whites while blacks were banished to arid and poor lands.

But critics say Mugabe’s cronies – and not ordinary peasants – benefited the most from farm seizures with some of them ending up with as many as six farms each against the government’s stated one-man-one-farm policy. A regional Southern African Development Community Tribunal ruled last November that Mugabe’s programme to seize white-owned land for redistribution to landless blacks was racist and illegal under the SADC Treaty.

However Mugabe’s government, which under the SADC Treaty is required to uphold decisions of the Tribunal, has ignored the ruling while top government officials and supporters of the ruling ZANU PF party have continued to evict white farmers.

Zimbabweans hope a SADC-brokered unity government between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai would help ease the political situation and allow the country to focus on tackling the economic and humanitarian crises.


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