APPROXIMATELY 40 villagers were yesterday detained by police officers as pressure mounted on a Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) boss to give up Maleme Ranch in Matabeleland South.
Villagers are resisting the allocation of the farm to CIO boss Rodney Mashingaidze and have vowed to fight to the bitter end to avoid the farm being taken over.
In probably the first of its kind, villagers volunteered to be arrested by the police, who had gone to the farm to protect it from possible vandalism.
However, villagers said they had gone to the farm to protect it against vandalism by Mashingaidze and his employees and to feed livestock on the farm.
Chief Masuku yesterday revealed that one of his aides, Killian Masuku, had been arrested after he had gone to feed ostriches on the farm.
Villagers said they were running various agricultural projects at the ranch like poultry farming, but Mashingaidze had locked them out, amid reports his employees were on a looting spree.
Sources yesterday revealed that no less than 40 villagers had been arrested, as tensions rose over the farm’s acquisition.
Pastor Anglistone Sibanda confirmed the arrests, and indicated that his Shalom Trust church-based organisation and lawyers from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) were battling to secure their release.
“Their property was being looted and their only crime is that they went to the farm to try and guard it from being stolen or destroyed by thieves,” he said.
“We are told that they had apprehended one of Mashingaidze’s employees who had looted property and as they heading to the police station they met police officers, who instead of arresting the suspected thief, arrested them.”
Sibanda, in the company of ZLHR lawyer, Tatenda Muganyi yesterday visited the police station in an effort to have the prisoners released.
It was not clear whether they had managed to do so by late last night.
Sibanda said the police had taken into custody 15 people, while about 20 old women were grouped at Nathisa, saying they were waiting for transport to take them to Kezi, where they would be caged.
Five youths were part of the group.
“The women said since their husbands and children had been arrested, they too wanted to be arrested,” Sibanda said.
The arrests came a day after Matobo villagers vowed to die fighting Mashingaidze from grabbing the ranch.
Opposition MDC said it condemned what it described as the senseless acquisition of the farm.
“We understand it to be government policy that the foundation of land reform is the empowerment of indigenous local communities,” the party said.
“It thus makes no sense that land which is fully being utilised by local indigenous communities is acquired by the State and then allocated to an individual, who is not even a local, but hails from another far off corner of the country, against the interests and wishes of the entirety of locals, including their traditional leaders, all of whom are already benefiting from the land.
“The deliberate bulldozing of Mashingaidze to take over the farm by the Zanu PF government shows a shocking disregard for the welfare, collective interests and needs of the local people and is, therefore, wholly unacceptable.
“In this regard, the MDC stands solidly behind the people of Maleme in their fight for justice.”
Matabeleland South police spokesman, Assistant Inspector Nkosilathi Sibanda referred all questions to Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi, who could not be reached for comment.
Vice-President Phekezela Mpoko had been scheduled to address the Matobo villagers over the dispute on Sunday, but did not show up.