ANTI-RIOT police yesterday descended at Maleme Ranch in Matopo and severely beat up villagers who had gathered for a prayer meeting on the farm.
The villagers were against the acquisition of the ranch by an official from the office of the president, Rodney Mashingaidze.
The locals had at the weekend resolved to hold two days of prayer to stop the acquisition of the farm which belonged to a white farmer, David Cunningham.
The prayers were supposed to continue yesterday, but all hell broke loose when baton-wielding riot police descended on villagers and beat them up for allegedly trying to stop the farm acquisition.
Chief Malaki Masuku confirmed receiving reports that locals had been assaulted by the police.
“Yes, I have a report that my people are being beaten up by the riot police for holding peace prayers at Shalom campsite,” he said.
This follows reports that Mashingaidze on Friday led a group of 16 people from outside the region, who pitched tents around the ranch and ordered farm workers to stop their routine tasks at the farm.
A foreman was arrested and taken to Kezi.
Unconfirmed reports claimed Cunningham had been taken to the local police station.
Matabeleland South police spokesperson Inspector Philisani Ndebele said he was not aware of the matter.
Local chiefs had been vehemently opposed to the acquisition and approached Provincial Affairs minister Abedinico Ncube, who has so far been indifferent to their pleas.
In response to the chiefs’ pleas, war veterans’ leader Chris Mutsvangwa warned traditional leaders in the province to stop meddling in land issues, but to stick to their mandate of safeguarding traditional values.
Mutsvangwa, who is minister in charge of the welfare of the former freedom fighters, said this while addressing hundreds of war veterans at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic, Gwanda, on Saturday.
“We respect our chiefs, but you should stop meddling in land issues, as it is not your mandate to do so. Concentrate on tradition,” he said.
“Land is a revolutionary issue. We went to war because of land.”
Matabeleland South Senator Chief Nyangazonke and other chiefs challenged land officials to explain how Maleme Ranch was allocated to Mashingaidze without their approval.
But Mutsvangwa said the chiefs were not mandated to allocate land.
War vets secretary-general Victor Matemadanda added the chiefs where working in cahoots with the provincial administrator Midard Khumalo, district administrators and land officials, who he said should be fired for engaging in corruption.
“Matabeleland South has the worst case of land corruption in the country and this is disgusting,” he said.
“Traditional leaders, provincial administrator, district administrators and lands officials are involved in illegal dealings and we will have them fired.”