Invaded Rusape farming family in crisis

farm_invasionsConcerns have been raised about the welfare of a Rusape commercial farming family, barricaded inside their home by land invaders (Pictured) who have also cut off the farm's electricity and water supplies.

Koos Smit and his family have faced a worsening crisis on their De Rust tobacco farm after it was invaded by a mob of youths, reportedly working for a Zanu PF official known only as Mr Mukomo. The youths were bussed onto the property last Tuesday to forcibly evict the family, beating up the family’s workers as well as the twin Smit sons. The mob also threatened a news crew from the Standard newspaper, who were on the property trying to interview the workers. The news service reported this weekend how the news crew was also “at the mercy of the marauding invaders.” “In an episode reminiscent of the violent 2000 land invasions, the group advanced towards the news crew threatening violence,” the Standard reported. The Smit family meanwhile has been barricaded inside their house, with no electricity or running water, dwindling food supplies, and no access to their livestock, which are also suffering.

The MDC’s Manicaland MP, Pishai Muchauraya, expressed his fears to SW Radio Africa on Monday, explaining how the family is still trapped inside their home. He said that he has been unable to visit the family or intervene to try help them “because the whole area is being guarded by youth militia.” “I am very concerned because this cannot go on much longer,” Muchauraya said. Muchauraya explained that the land attacks in his constituency have been masterminded by Temba Mliswa, the Zanu PF secretary for lands in Mashonaland West, as well as former lands Minister Didymus Mutasa. It is well known that Mutasa already has more than 10 farms in the Rusape area, while Mliswa recently led an invasion on Pete Landos’ farm, which reportedly has been earmarked for Mliswa’s brother. Landos meanwhile has remained voluntarily locked away in his property for fear of land invaders. “People must be aware now that these land attacks have nothing to do with land reform or redistribution,” Muchauraya said. “This is only about Zanu PF officials looting and stealing.”

The Smits are the latest family to come under siege in the Rusape area, where in recent weeks a number of mainly South African farming families have been forcibly evicted from their land. Dolf du Toit and his family left their property recently after days of violence and intimidation. Their forced eviction came in the wake of two other evictions, including that of Manda Farm’s Ray Finaughty, who fled his home with his family on Christmas Eve amid increasing violence by land invaders. The evictions have come just weeks after South Africa and Zimbabwe signed a bilateral investment protection agreement, meant to offer the farmers some form of protection against invasion. Pressure group AfriForum had originally tried to stop the signing of the document, over fears it would fail those South African farmers whose land had already been expropriated under the land grab campaign. But the South African government made assurances that it would protect its citizens in Zimbabwe, and as a result the investment pact was eventually signed.

Both governments have since argued that the document is not yet valid because it hasn’t been ratified in the Zimbabwe parliament, leaving the South African farmers with no protection. The Zimbabwe government is now set to be sued by AfriForum over the illegal and ongoing seizure of South African owned land. Last week, the group won a high court bid to serve papers on Zimbabwe, in an effort to enforce a 2008 regional ruling declaring the Robert Mugabe’s land ‘reform’ exercise as unlawful. The ruling was passed by the human rights court of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which ordered the government to protect white farmers and the rights to their land. But the ruling has been ignored in Zimbabwe where land attacks are once again intensifying, and AfriForum is seeking to have the ruling enforced from within South Africa. On Sunday, the South African government confirmed that it was in contact with Zimbabwean authorities over “issues raised by the South African citizens residing in Zimbabwe.” A statement from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation explained that it will continue to offer consular assistance to all South African citizens “who might have been affected by any unfortunate circumstances that are beyond their control.” The statement does not refer directly to the ongoing farm attacks that have left the farming community reeling, but it does call for ‘patience’, asking “those who have been affected to remain calm as we progressively address their plight in light of these prevailing circumstances until things return to normality.” It is an extremely carefully worded document.

Meanwhile, a new wave of farm invasions has also hit Matabeleland North, where there have been at least 12 evictions and widespread theft of farming equipment. According to the Southern African Commercial Farmers Alliance (SACFA), Zimbabwe chapter, at least 12 properties have been targeted in the past week: in Nyamandhlovu, Dilkosch, Shirville and Kennellys; in Inyathi the farms targeted are Oscardale, Nanhurst, Riverside and Riverbank, and in Bulawayo Central constituency, Kloof Farm. SACFA’s Chairman Chris Jarrett told SW Radio Africa that a certain ‘modus operandi’ is being followed with each eviction. He explained how each affected property was visited by a Mr Dube from the Ministry of Lands, accompanied by various civil servants with the back-up of police. The officials advise the farm owners to vacate their properties because they have been ‘acquired by the state.’ They then immediately take an inventory of what equipment and machinery they can find and tell the owner that he may not remove any of it as the “government will pay for it.” Jarrett explained that this statement alone is ‘ludicrous’, because “the government cannot even pay civil servants their proper wages let alone pay for farmers equipment. It is becoming abundantly clear that this power-sharing government is unwilling or incapable of abiding by many of their domestic laws and international obligations,” Jarrett said.

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