The extraordinary pictures that PROVE black British doctor who seized white family’s farm in Zimbabwe knows the Mugabes
- Photograph shows Grace Mugabe posing with wealthy Nottingham doctor Sylvester Nyatsuro and his wife Veronica
- The white Rankin family had lived on Zimbabwe tobacco farm for 35 years
- It was seized by ‘land grab’ Zimbabwe-born British GP living in Nottingham
- Thugs wielding AK47s moved in on farm and dumped things in a truck
- Tobacco farmers say their lives were destroyed by controversial eviction
- Photograph suggests the Nyatsuros have a connection to Mugabe family
These extraordinary photographs show that a wealthy British doctor who seized a white family’s farm in Zimbabwe knows tyrant Robert Mugabe’s wife.
Sylvester Nyatsuro, 45, took over a tobacco plantation belonging to Phillip and Anita Rankin, who were frog-marched off their land by AK47-wielding thugs.
The Rankins, who bought the land 35 years ago, were handcuffed and taken away in police lorries on the orders of Nottingham-based Dr Nyatsuro and his wife Veronica, 45.
Evidence: This picture shows Grace Mugabe, wife of the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, posing with British doctor Sylvester Nyatsuro and his wife, Veronica, who were given a farm seized from a white couple
Land-grab: British doctor Sylvester Nyatsuro and his wife Veronica who are at the centre of the controversy
Dispossessed: Phillip Rankin and his wife Anita are now staying with a relative 15 miles away from Harare
Seized: Two armed Zimbabwean police officers padlock the gates to the farm when Anita and Phillip Rankin have lived for 35 years. The land is being seized by British GP Dr Sylvester Nyatsuro
The Zimbabwe-born Nyatsuros, who moved to Britain in 2000, can now be linked to the ruling Mugabe family for the first time.
The photographs showing the couple posing with Grace Mugabe have led pro-democracy campaigners to accuse them of ‘cronyism’.
‘These pictures of the Nyatsuros with Grace Mugabe show the tentacles of Mugabe’s cronyism reaching all the way to Nottingham,’ Rose Benton, from UK-based campaign group Zimbabwe Vigil, told MailOnline.
‘It’s astonishing that such corruption can be allowed to continue.’
It is unclear where and when the pictures were taken.
The couple, who have three children, run a weight-loss clinic in Nottingham, where they live in a gated, five-bedroom home which they bought for £730,000 in 2006.
They also own a number of rental properties and Dr Nyatsuro drives a Mercedes sports car.
The couple refused to respond to MailOnline’s requests for comment. But they told Zimbabwean press the Mugabe family played no role in the land seizure.
The Rankins were forced out of the £1.7million tobacco plantation last month amid chaotic scenes in which armed thugs took control of the farm. Their worldly possessions were put into lorries and taken away.
They had tended the land for over three decades since purchasing it from another farmer, and the flourishing business is now understood to be worth up to £1.5million.
Connected: Sylvester and Veronica Nyatsuro pose with Grace Mugabe in an undisclosed location
Links: Grace Mugabe and Veronica Nyatsuro smile for the camera with a group of unidentified children
Asset: Dr Nyatsuro and his wife live in a five-bedroom home outside Nottingham which they bought for £730,000 in 2006
Silent: Dr Nyatsuro refused to respond to MailOnline’s attempts to contact him at his home in Nottingham
Dictator: Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, 92, and his wife Grace, celebrating his birthday last week
A glimmer of hope for the dispossessed family came on Wednesday, when Zimbabwe’s High Court issued an order granting them the right to enter the farm while a full enquiry was launched.
But today the Rankins were too scared to approach the property, as at least 20 armed men – including one who claims to be Mrs Nyatsuro’s brother – remained in their family home.
Witnesses say the thugs show ‘no sign of leaving’ the farm, which is located about 140 miles north east of the capital Harare.
Labourers are desperately harvesting and curing the valuable tobacco crop before it spoils, under direction from Mr Rankin via mobile phone.
The eviction of the Rankins was caught on camera by a neighbour, using his mobile phone.
In the pictures, a squad of about 20 armed men can be seen seizing the property and hauling Phillip Rankin, 57, and his family away in handcuffs while the gates are padlocked behind them.
Some of the Rankins’ furniture and personal effects are seen being thrown into the back of a police lorry, which is driven away by armed men while Mr Rankin looks on in disbelief.
Guarded: A man carrying a gun is pictured at the farm in Zimbabwe, which is padlocked shut and deserted
Dumped: Phillip and Anita Rankin were forced from their farm in Zimbabwe and their belongings were piled onto a police vehicle and driven away
Threatening: Armed thugs and police moved in on the 2,000 acre property, worth up to £1.5million, on behalf of a wealthy British GP who lives 7,500 miles away in Nottingham
Bewildered: Labourers look on as the farm is taken over by police officers and thugs armed with guns
The land-grab took place as part of 92-year-old dictator Robert Mugabe’s policy of handing land owned by whites to black Zimbabweans – usually as rewards to his cronies in the ruling Zanu PF party and their supporters.
This ‘land reform’ has been taking place for 16 years, with 90 per cent of white farmers being driven off their land.
Many Zimbabwean activists are questioning why the Rankins’ farm should be given to a British doctor who has made his home on another continent and is already wealthy in his own right.
Dr Nyatsuro has faced protests at his clinic in Nottingham, with more scheduled over the coming weeks.
The Rankin family have been left destitute. Anita Rankin, who farmed the tobacco fields with her husband for more than three decades, wept as she described the trauma of losing everything they own.
She told MailOnline: ‘They would come to the kitchen door and stare at us and they made so much noise. It was a very tough situation and it went on and on.
‘We don’t know where we will live or what we will do. I am born and bred on a farm. I don’t know town life. And I only know Zimbabwe.’
Practice: Dr Nyatsuro runs The Willows Medical Centre in Nottingham, a medical and slimming clinic
The Rankins are now staying with their son Barry in Harare as they contemplate how to claim back the tobacco crop they planted and move on with their lives.
They have no property aside from the farm, and had borrowed £400,000 to finance this year’s crop and manage debts from previous years.
Barry said: ‘We paid the workers their January salary [on Monday], but as for next month I just don’t know. I don’t know how we will manage any of this.’
Speaking from his new home in the capital Harare, he described how the family thought they had ‘survived’ after they held onto their land in the initial wave of confiscations by the Mugabe regime.
He hit out against the eviction, saying it ‘doesn’t make sense’ that a wealthy professional who lives in the West should be given property by the government.
HOW MUGABE’S LAND GRABS LED TO VIOLENCE AND POVERTY
Robert Mugabe’s policy of ‘land reform’ has been running for 16 years, with 90 per cent of white farmers in Zimbabwe seeing their land taken and given to black people instead.
The government insists it is necessary to reduce the whites’ economic dominance which dates back to the colonial era – but opponents claim it is a tyrannical and unfair process which bears little relation to justice. Mugabe said that the British took the land in the 1890’s and Zimbabweans are claiming it back. Most of the land is then given to pro Zanu PF supporters.
The white farmers, many of whom have occupied the same plots for decades, were removed from their homes without compensation and often suffered violence from police during the evictions.
Around 20 farmers and their workers died during the first wave of seizures, which contributed to the country’s economic collapse as Zimbabwe’s skills base was hollowed out and the amount of crops produced tumbled.
The policy also led to allegations that Mugabe’s cronies were more likely to be given land than genuinely needy citizens.
Some suggested that the reforms were instigated as a way of distracting from the government’s failure to implement true democracy in the decades after the end of white rule, with Mugabe presiding over a series of rigged elections and ruthlessly quashing political dissent.
But the policy instead made the regime less stable, with Zimbabwe’s economic troubles causing the collapse of the local currency after a period of damaging hyperinflation.
Roughly 300 white farmers were left in possession of their land, but last year the policy of confiscation seems to have started again, threatening the last remaining holdouts such as the Rankin family in Centenary.
‘As a family we are absolutely gutted,’ Barry told MailOnline. ‘We have been turfed off of our land and there’s nothing we can do about it. We are devastated.
‘It was our business – but more important than that, it was our home. We have never owned anything other than the farm and that’s gone in one weekend.
‘My parents have been working on the farm for 35 years. I grew up there. Those years have not all been hunky dory, we have had our ups and downs like any family, but we thought the farm would always be there.’
Barry added: ‘We have had 16 years of land acquisition in Zimbabwe and we thought we’d survived – we didn’t see this coming. We thought we had ridden our way through it, we thought we would be alright.
‘I don’t know what we are going to do. I can’t even think beyond tonight.’
Slamming the move to give his land to Dr Nyatsuro, he added: ‘It doesn’t make sense to me how a doctor who lives in the UK can come and take our land.
‘Land requisition was supposed to be for the landless, for the people who didn’t have anything. I thought it was for the people of Zimbawe with nothing, not for wealthy British doctors who do not live here.
‘But what do I know? I don’t know the law, I’m just a simple farmer. My parents have farmed tobacco over four decades, it is all we ever knew.
‘It is every family’s dream to pass on their property onto their children. My parents were going to give it to me, and I was going to pass it on to my children and their children after that.’
Solicitor Nyarodzo Maphosa said she was seeking a ruling that would allow the Rankins to return to their home and carry on farming as they were before the ‘lawless’ acts.
That was granted by the High Court on Wednesday, but the Rankins remain too scared to return to their property, which continues to be occupied by armed men.
The land-grab began in September, when Dr Nyatsuro apparently turned up at the Kingston Deverill plantation with a government document saying that he was now the rightful owner.
Two dozen settlers then moved into a nearby cottage and caused problems for the family, according to Mrs Rankin, 54, who has three children with her husband.
Dr Nyatsuro declined to comment when leaving Bakersfield Medical Centre, less than a mile from his own practice, before driving away in his black Mercedes 4×4 last week.
His lawyer denied that his client had clashed with the Rankin family, claiming that the farmers had not been able to prove that they are the rightful owners of the land.
He also insisted that the doctor’s political connections were not responsible for his being given the farm, saying ‘any Zimbabwean has a right to benefit from the land reform programme’.
Fungai Chimwamurombe, a Harare-based solicitor, told MailOnline: ‘The government’s position is that the farm was acquired over a decade ago.
Occupied: The couple say police have taken over their home and stopped them working on the farm
Home: The Rankins pictured on their tobacco farm in the Centenary district of northern Zimbabwe
Valuable: A handful of workers can be seen in the distance trying to salvage the Rankins’ expensive crop
‘At various court sessions we attended with Mr Rankin and his lawyer, they failed to show the legal basis why he was occupying the farm.
‘It is our understanding that the minister of lands offered our client the land because they believe it is state land and it is up to Mr Rankin to prove otherwise.
‘The issue here is not between our client and Mr Rankin because he is only a third party who applied generally for land years back. He was on the waiting list for a long time and was offered this state land on the strength of his application.’
The lawyer added that Dr Nyatsuro did not know that the farm was occupied by the Rankins until he went to take possession of the property allocated to him by the government.
He said: ‘It is our understanding that many Zimbabweans, regardless of political affiliation, benefitted from the land reform programme.’
Mr Chimwamurombe claimed that the ownership of the farm had not been finally settled because police told Dr Nyatsuro that he could not immediately move in.
Mrs Nyatsuro has denied rumours she is related to Mugabe’s wife Grace.
The couple has also denied using violence to enforce their claim to the Rankins’ farm, saying that they were allocated the property by the state in accordance with normal legal procedures.
Tobacco: Mr Rankin invested £300,000 in his current tobacco crop which will be ready for harvest in August
Location: The farm at the centre of the controversy is about 140 miles north of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.-MailOnline