VICE-PRESIDENT Phelekezela Mphoko was in no-show yesterday at a highly anticipated, tense and explosive meeting to address government’s acquisition of Maleme Farm in Matobo, Matabeleland South, as opposition parties have called for mass protests against the farm’s new owner.
Central Intelligence Organisation officer Rodney Mashingaidze was allocated the farm, but villagers said they would not allow him to take ownership of it, an issue Mphoko was meant to address.
Now villagers say they will set up vigils at the farm from today and will not allow anyone to take over the land which belonged to David Cunningham, one of few remaining white commercial farmers in the district.
The opposition MDC-T has called on villagers and the local leadership to stand up together, regardless of political affiliation against the invasion of the farm.
“MDC-T is calling for people in Matobo to rise regardless of their political affiliation and stand for their rights by defending the takeover of Maleme Farm, worse by an outsider,” MDC-T Matobo district chairman Themba Dube said.
“That farm has been a source of people’s livelihood and we cannot afford to lose it.
“We cannot let that area be taken.”
Dube said people in Matobo were tired of having outsiders taking farms and later abandoning them leaving the district in ruins.
“The worst part of it is that the people who do that are not locals, at least if the farms are taken by locals it would be better,” he said.
As tensions rose yesterday, Zipra Veterans’ Trust and the secessionist Mthwakazi Liberation Party (MLP) activists yesterday took the lead in confronting Mashingaidze.
Matabeleland South chiefs and villagers opposed Mashingaidze’s attempts to grab the property that houses Shalom Campsite and Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre, which offered entrepreneurial and agricultural training, but had never confronted the State spy.
Chiefs and villagers have sought the intervention of Mphoko and Lands minister Douglas Mombeshora to evict Mashingaidze.
More than 500 villagers, civic society activists and politicians, some from Bulawayo, attended yesterday’s meeting that was supposed to be addressed by Mphoko, with a number of them wearing T-shirts inscribed “We are human beings, respect us,” in messages apparently directed at Mashingaidze.
The source of the T-shirts could not be verified.
Angry Zipra War Veterans’ Trust and MLP activists, from Bulawayo, after the meeting went to Shalom Campsite, dismantled the two gates leading to the Maleme farmhouse to confront Mashingaidze and his workers over the ranch grab – but Mashingaidze was nowhere to be found while his workers fled.
“Already we see signs of destruction at the farm,” Retired Colonel Ray Ncube said.
“Mashingaidze is a criminal because, how can one individual seek to displace the community from their only source of livelihood?
“We are in solidarity with the community.
“We are concerned with what is happening here and we wanted to confront him.”
Mqondisi Moyo, the president of the MLP added: “We will not rest until this issue is addressed and resolved.”
Moyo said they were opposed to the farm’s acquisition, as it would deprive villagers of their livelihood.
“We are saying no to economic genocide by Mashingaidze and those supporting his activities,” he said.
“We are standing up to fight on behalf of the villagers.
“This is their land and Mashingaidze cannot be allowed to bulldoze into the area.”
The Matobo Development Forum has appealed to President Robert Mugabe to stop Mashingaidze, and described his attempts to take over the ranch as a painful reminder of Gukurahundi to the Matobo people.
Chief Mathema, Nyangazonke and Masuku reiterated that they would not allow Mashingaidze to grab Cunninghams’ property and indicated that they would keep lobbying Mombeshora and Mphoko to reverse the takeover.
“We are trying our best to have this farm takeover reversed,” Chief Mathema said.
“We are approaching various government offices. We face frustration here and there, but we will not be deterred. You (villagers) have said you do not want Mashingaidze and we stand by you. We respect your decisions and it is our duty to make sure that your wishes are not trampled on. I am saying no to this attempt to grab this farm.”
Chief Masuku added: “President Mugabe has said he respects chiefs and who then is Mashingaidze to disrespect us?”