Obert Mpofu turns to armed militia to evict rights advocate from Esidakeni farm

BULAWAYO – Zanu PF secretary for administration Obert Mpofu has deployed armed men to evict a prominent human rights activist and his partners from a coveted farm in Nyamandlovu, thumbing his nose at a court order which said the occupation was illegal.

Butternuts and onions due for harvest “are rotting” at the farm after Mpofu’s thugs drove out farm workers, said scientist Zephaniah Dhlamini who owns the farm jointly with miner Charles Moyo and Siphosami Malunga, the executive director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA).

The trio’s employees had their property dumped at the gate of the 554-hectare farm in driving rain on Tuesday.

Malunga believes he has been targeted by Mpofu over his criticism of Zimbabwe’s government and his human rights work with OSISA, which funds pro-democracy groups in the country.

A ZimLive crew was stopped from entering the farm, 67km northwest of Bulawayo, by two armed men on Thursday.

“Mpofu just left and he gave firm instructions that no-one goes in,” a man brandishing a rifle said.

The two men, each armed with a rifle, scrambled for cover behind a wall when our photographer pulled out his camera.

Dhlamini, a scientist with the University of Science and Technology, said: “We have secured an eviction order against Mpofu and he appealed. We have applied for his ejectment pending his appeal and the matter is pending.

“His actions now to chase away our workers and prevent us, the legitimate owners, from entering the farm are completely without legal basis and unlawful.”

Dhlamini said they had 100 tonnes of onions in a warehouse at the farm, a herd of over 100 cattle, goats and chickens which were now at the mercy of the former mines minister.

“We have about 50 tonnes of onions and 20 tonnes of butternut that we can’t harvest. They’re rotting,” Dhlamini told ZimLive.

Mpofu, who controls vast tracts of land in Matabeleland North, says he has an offer letter for 145 hectares of Esidakeni in the name of his other property, Mswelangubo Farm.

In December, the Bulawayo High Court granted an application by Malunga and his partners for the eviction of Mpofu pending a decision of the same court on the main application in which they are challenging a government decision to list the farm for compulsory acquisition.

The High Court directed that Mpofu, his wife Sikhanyisiwe “and all those claiming occupation through them must vacate the farm within 24 hours failing which the Deputy Sheriff of the High Court with the assistance of the police must evict them.”

Mpofu appealed, in effect suspending that ruling. Malunga and his partners then went back to the High Court to seek his eviction pending the outcome of his appeal. That application is yet to be set down for hearing.

Esidakeni’s owners, who bought the farm in 2017, already won several court orders against a National University Science and Technology lecturer, Dumisani Madzivanyati, who was the first to occupy a section of the farm. The High Court ordered his eviction.

Lawyers for Esidakeni farm’s owners say the constitution prevents the government from taking over black-owned farms under laws crafted to reform land ownership, previously dominated by a few thousand white farmers.

Watchers of the farm wrangle say the court’s decision will send a statement on the respect of property rights, or lack of, under the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

A 2012 report by Partnership Africa Canada, a group of investigative journalists, said Mpofu controlled farm holdings of at least 65,000 hectares, placing him “in the top five landowners in Zimbabwe.”

The properties include a 10,000-hectare farm leased to him for a pittance by the Cold Storage Commission (CSC).

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