VICE President Phelekezela Mphoko yesterday showed his hand in a farm dispute that has caused turmoil in a small community in Matobo, Matabeleland South, as he ordered a senior state intelligence official to vacate a farm which he had occupied.
Rodney Mashingaidze, a district officer in the President’s Office, must be allocated land elsewhere, the Vice President directed – sparking joyous parties among locals.
A traditional chief who had campaigned to save Maleme Farm – which houses Shalom Campsite and Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre – said Mphoko was a “good leader who hears the cries of the people”.
A board member with Ebenezer, a church organisation, said their joy was “too much”.
The Vice President swept into the farm early yesterday to resolve a month-old dispute between Mashingaidze – who was allocated the farm on February 1 this year – and a white farmer, Peter Cunningham.
Three traditional chiefs – Nyangazonke, Masuku and Mathema – joined a determined lobby of villagers who campaigned against the farm take-over. They said the farm was benefiting at least 800 families, with Cunningham being credited for assisting locals with various projects, including chicken breeding and teaching them modern farming methods.
The campaign had run the risk of being hijacked by anti-government elements, and this was evident yesterday after pro-opposition groups kettled villagers at Induna Primary School, claiming Mphoko would address them there.
But the VP, who had no public rally planned, was business-like as he arrived at the farm. He went into a closed door meeting with local government officials, provincial security chiefs and members of the Matabeleland South Lands Committee.
Emerging from the two-hour meeting, VP Mphoko spoke exclusively to The Chronicle.
“The outcome of the meeting is that if the people, the general community, is benefiting from the project then they’re a responsibility of the government and then it’s decided that the people, the community, should continue with their projects as compared to Ndlovu or Khumalo taking over,” the Vice President said.
“So, that’s the decision that’s been taken. That’s what I came to deliver to the people.”
Mphoko said the Ministry of Lands and Rural Settlement would identify another farm for Mashingaidze.
“Mashingaidze is a Zimbabwean who is entitled to a farm like anybody else,” the VP continued. “The ministry concerned will find a farm for him which is straightforward because we can’t take a project which benefits the community and give it to an individual; it doesn’t work that way. It works against government policy because the government wants to uplift people.”
The Vice President’s intervention had echoes of similar action taken by Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister Shuvai Mahofa last week after she barred Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi from taking over part of Barquest Farm which is home to the province’s largest hatchery project that produces 100,000 day-old chicks per week.
The farm, owned by Hellen Mitchell, is located near Lake Mutirikwi, about 20km east of Masvingo city.
Minister Mzembi wanted to partner Mitchell in the hatchery project after he was issued with an offer letter for about 370 hectares of land at Barquest Farm which was gazetted for acquisition under the land reform programme a few years ago.
Senator Mahofa said the farm was “strategic” to Masvingo Province as she advised the Lands Committee to find Mzembi land elsewhere.
After Mphoko – who leaves for Lesotho today to attend new Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s inauguration on Tuesday – issued his directive, it fell upon the traditional leaders to go to Induna Primary School to deliver the “good news”.
Chief Masuku told the expectant crowd: “We’re saying Amhlophe (congratulations)! We’ve a father figure, the Vice President, who has freed our hearts. Siyamjabulela (We’re happy for him). That’s good leadership, he’s a father who hears the cries of his children.”
He also thanked President Robert Mugabe for appointing Mphoko, whom he said had “acted with humility and bravery in solving the land wrangle”.
Before his departure, Mphoko and other officials toured Shalom and Ebenezer projects. The Vice President also had a brief, private chat with Cunningham.
Shalom, which is mainly a camping site used by church denominations from all over the country, has several projects including a chicken hatchery, tomatoes and ostrich breeding.
Ebenezer board member Pastor Partson Netha and Cunningham struggled to collect their thoughts, overcome with emotions.
“Please let’s talk some other time, I can’t talk to you at the moment,” said Netha.
“The joy is just too much.”
Villagers – some of whom had been arrested for public order offences for their resistance – sang and danced for hours, before taking to their homes in different directions.
Villager, Misheck Sibanda, said they had cordial relations with Cunningham as he was involved in several projects with villagers.
“We’ve been working well with Cunningham,” he said. “We don’t hate Mashingaidze, but we don’t know whether he was going to look after all those families surviving from the farm’s projects.”
Zainah Ndlovu, who also lives nearby, said she had managed to raise her children from the chicken projects.
“We’re very happy to get our farm. We no longer rely on food from World Vision and Red Cross because we’ve self-sustaining projects that have enabled us to send our children as far as Form Six whereas back in the day they would end at Grade Seven,” she said.
“We thank the Vice President for his decision to save us.”
Among those who met the VP were Provincial Affairs Minister Abednico Ncube, ZRP Officer Commanding Matabeleland South, Happymore Sigauke, Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services Deputy Officer Commanding Matabeleland South Region Chief Superintendent Social Ndanga, senior army and intelligence officials.