Robert Mugabe's top aide has flouted a high court ruling, leaving 75 people in tears – homeless and jobless.
David Connolly casts a lonely figure on the veranda of his homestead at Centenary farm, about 30km from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, along the Plumtree-Botswana highway. He appears agitated.
The previous day Zanu-PF agents provocateurs, allegedly at the behest of one of President Robert Mugabe’s top aides, Ray Ndhlukula, forcibly ejected his entire workforce and their dependants to pave the way for the top civil servant, who has been eyeing the property since June.
Despite a high court order barring him from seizing Centenary farm – a prime onion, tomato and cabbage farm with about 100 heifers – Ndhlukula has shown determination to seize the farm, in what critics view as an escalation and renewal of lawlessness in Zimbabwe’s farming community, 14 years after the first land invasions.
Fighting back tears, Connolly told the Mail & Guardian how, on August 6, his employee Tymon Sibanda and his nephew Clever Sibanda, along with other Centenary farm employees, their wives and children, totalling 75 people, were evicted from their homes on the farm under the instruction of Ndhlukula.
“Ndhlukula is a senior civil servant in the president’s office. This took place in spite of a valid court order preventing these specific actions. Tymon and 74 people are now completely homeless,” says Connolly, showing this reporter an interim relief order granted by the high court barring the top civil servant from seizing the farm.
The evicted now stay in the bushes surrounding the farm, and their wives and children have found refuge in nearby villages. Ndhlukula’s workers, who arrived from Bulawayo, have settled on another part of the farm.
This week the evicted workers had few kind words for Mugabe’s top aide.
“We don’t think he will be able to pay workers $140 a month, which is what Connolly is paying some of us,” said farmworker Tymon Sibanda. “We hear he is offering $70 per month, saying take it or leave the farm.”
A perusal of the relief order granted against Ndhlukula issued by the Bulawayo High Court on June 27 reads in part: “The First Respondent [Ndhlukula] is hereby interdicted and barred from taking occupation of, or bringing cattle onto the piece of land, namely a farm known as Subdivision A of Centenary, measuring 13 045 441 hectares, situated in the Bulilima District. It is hereby declared that until this application is determined on the return day, the applicant [Connolly] and all claiming occupation through it are entitled to remain in peaceful occupation of the farm, and to continue operations on the farm undisturbed.”
It adds that, in the event that Ndhlukula or any party claiming occupation through him has, by the time of service of the order, taken occupation of the farm, it is ordered that the top civil servant must vacate the farm immediately and restore occupation and possession to Connolly.
Lastly, the court ordered that in the event of Ndhlukula failing to vacate the farm in accordance with the order, the deputy sheriff is authorised and directed to evict the invaders.
But Connolly says Ndhlukula, who was not immediately available to comment this week, has refused to accept the order.
“When he visited the farm in early August he turned to me and informed me that he was a senior civil servant in the office of the president and that the chief justice had said that ‘white people could not come before the courts of Zimbabwe regarding land matters’.
“He further informed me that he [Ndhlukula] was not going to abide by the ruling of the court and that he would show me how he was going to do things ‘his way’. He said that he would take all my cattle, vegetables, farm equipment and household contents.”
Ndhlukula has moved his personal belongings on to the farm as well as a tractor and other farming implements as he waits for an opportune time to take over the farm.
Invasions ‘nothing new’
Ben Freeth, a commercial farmer who had his citrus farm seized by one of Mugabe’s loyalists in Chegutu a few years ago and was at Centenary farm to console Connolly when the M&G visited, said the police and other law enforcement agents have not been helpful, giving credence to assertions by Zanu-PF critics that this could be another phase of Mugabe’s land revolution.
“They did nothing when the farmworkers were evicted. In fact, they appear to be assisting the top civil servant in seizing Connolly’s farm.”
Connolly conceded the invasions were “nothing new” and that thousands of farmers and hundreds of thousands of their farmworkers and other dependants have already been evicted.
But the international community should be “well informed that, as they speak of re-engagement with the Zimbabwe government, nothing has changed and the rule of law is still being ignored by those high up in the government and the very individuals at the negotiating table continue to act in contempt of court in order to illegally dispossess others and increase their personal wealth”.
The new invaders have also targeted black farmers opposed to Mugabe.
Last week Zanu-PF invaders swooped on Ruby farm in Nyamandlovu, Matabeleland North, a property owned by former home affairs minister and Zanu-PF politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa, who quit Mugabe’s party to revive PF-Zapu.
But the invaders retreated last Friday after the former Zipra intelligence supremo threatened to take the law into his own hands.
“It’s quiet now. The invaders have not returned,” Dabengwa told the M&G this week. He said the invasion was organised to persecute him for opposing Zanu-PF.
He said the fact the settlers were led by people from outside the region meant that the 1979 secret Zanu-PF “Grand Plan” seeking to marginalise the people of Matabeleland was being activated.
But Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo distanced the party from the settlers, saying land belonged to every Zimbabwean regardless of their race, tribe or creed.
Second-tier land revolution
Charles Hungwe, a political analyst who has been keeping a close watch on the renewed chaos on the commercial farming community, is adamant the farm invasions are part of what he describes as the second-tier land revolution.
Hungwe said the first tier was on taking land from the white commercial farmers based on historical land inequity.
“The second revolution is taking land from indigenous landowners, and white Zimbabweans, based on regionalism.
“People are beginning to question the origins of those that have taken land and attempting to ensure that they come from the regions within where they have gotten land. All this is done for political allegiances.”
The other factor driving this second-tier revolution, Hungwe added, is the seeming “last-minute rush” driven by the succession race.
“Many are not sure what will happen after the Zanu-PF December 2014 elective congress and, should Mugabe step down or be succeeded. In that regard, there is a rush to grab as much land while the opportunity exists,” Hungwe said.
Charles Taffs, the president of the white-dominated Commercial Farmers Union, said the escalation in renewed farm invasions has sent shivers down the spines of the few remaining commercial farmers such as Connolly.
Taffs said there is general insecurity in the industry as the farm disruptions keep occurring.
“Both the farming and the banking community become increasingly uncertain about investment under the current situation. In June there were a large number of disruptions but at least we had a reasonably quiet long weekend.”
In the meantime, concerned Zimbabweans have written a petition to the South African Development Community leaders attending a summit in Victoria Falls in a desperate attempt to save Connolly’s property from being seized by Ndhlukula.
Douglas Mombeshora, the minister of land and rural resettlement, said anyone invading land, including Ndhlukula, was out of order. He dismissed claims that Zanu-PF or Mugabe had launched another land revolution. “So far we have not received any report of new land invasions and as a party we don’t have a fresh programme. No one should settle on someone’s piece of land,” Mombeshora said.