President Robert Mugabe and his co-deputy, Phelekezela Mphoko, have come to the rescue of a defiant commercial white farmer facing eviction by a black beneficiary of the land redistribution exercise.
The white farmer, John Osborne, had his 337 hectare Maryland Farm in Macheke, Mashonaland East province, gazetted and given to the then Zanu PF provincial commissar, Herbert Shumbamhini in January 2016.
This is in spite of the fact that government declared the land reform programme officially over several years ago.
Shumbamhini is currently on suspension from his party and was recently forced off another farm, Divonia in Goromonzi district in the same province, by Mugabe’s in-laws who include Simba Chikore, the husband to his daughter, Bona.
Encouraged by backing from Mphoko, Osborne has resisted vacating Maryland Farm.
The vice president visited the farm on 29 June and two weeks later wrote to the Mashonaland East provincial minister, Ambrose Mutinhiri, ordering him to ensure that Osborne stayed put while Shumbamhini was given an alternative farm.
“During a consultative stakeholders’ meeting with yourself, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture (Livestock) (Paddy Zhanda), the local chief, Chief Mangwende, and service chiefs, it became apparent that the community felt that Mr Shumbamhini had previously benefited from the land reform programme elsewhere, but failed to co-exist with the local community,” Mphoko said.
“It was also clear that the current farmer, Mr John Osborne, was rearing an impressive pedigree herd of the indigenous Mashona cattle (one of only three breeders countrywide), and it would be a great loss to the nation if he were to leave,” wrote Mphoko.
He said he had discussed Osborne’s issue with Mugabe who had instructed that there be no interruptions on the farmer’s operations on Maryland Farm.
However, Lands ministry secretary, Grace Mutandiro contradicted her bosses’ position and filed an affidavit in support of Shumbamhini’s occupation of Maryland Farm.
The fast track land redistribution programme that started in 2000 and displaced about 6,000 commercial farmers has been viewed as largely racist as it targeted whites regardless of the status of ownership of the farms.
In the past, Mugabe has threatened top Zanu PF and government officials, particularly in his home province of Mashonaland West, of protecting white farmers and returning them to their plots through the back door.