VICE-President Phelekezela Mphoko yesterday reiterated that white commercial farmer Mr Peter Cunningham will stay put at disputed Maleme Farm in Matobo district despite dissenting voices from some politicians in Matabeleland South province.
VP Mphoko made the remarks as he distributed an additional 3,000 chicks to the Nketa community in Bulawayo, bringing to 9,000 the number of chicks donated by the Cunningham family.
Two months ago, Rural Development, Preservation of Culture and Heritage Minister Abedinico Ncube and Chief Nyangazonke clashed over the presence of Mr Cunningham at the farm.
Minister Ncube, who was speaking during the burial of Chief Masuku in Nathisa village in Matobo in May, described Mr Cunningham as a “slave master” who is exploiting the local black community on the pretext that he was assisting them with agricultural projects.
Mr Cunningham has been locked in a protracted legal wrangle with senior state intelligence officer Mr Rodney Mashingaidze over the control of Maleme Farm, which also houses Big Cave Camp and Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre.
VP Mphoko said when he ordered Mr Mashingaidze to vacate Maleme Farm he was acting on behalf of President Mugabe.
“Coming to the issue of Maleme Farm, I know very well that we agreed that Mashingaidze should be allocated a farm elsewhere and we did that. I spoke on behalf of President Mugabe and I was simply articulating his policy of reconciliation and it shouldn’t be distorted,” he said.
VP Mphoko credited Mr Cunningham for assisting villagers with various projects, including chicken production and teaching them modern farming methods.
“In actual fact, we couldn’t give Mashingaidze Maleme Farm because we noted that Cunningham is helping more than 800 families which the Government liked and approved. The chicks that I’m donating to communities around the country to economically empower our people are actually from Maleme Farm,” he said.
VP Mphoko said the white community is a part of the Zimbabwean society which has a constitutional right to all resources in the country including land.
“The President didn’t say a white person shouldn’t be entitled to a farm. We have several white farmers in Zimbabwe who are benefiting from our land. The President spoke of reconciliation at independence and as leaders these are the terms of reference which we should follow. He (President Mugabe) extended the hand of reconciliation to the same white people who were fighting us and those who didn’t want to remain after independence left the country and we have some who opted to remain,” he said.
Mr Mashingaidze took over Maleme Farm last year in February after it had been allocated to him by the Ministry of Lands and Rural Settlement. This sparked protests by the local community who are benefiting from various agricultural projects funded by Mr Cunningham.
Chief Nyangazonke said the local community was benefiting from the agricultural projects.
He together with Chief Mathema and the late Chief Masuku joined a determined lobby of villagers who campaigned against the farm take-over.
The dispute cooled down following last year’s intervention by VP Mphoko when he ordered Mr Mashingaidze to vacate the property. He directed the Ministry of Lands and Rural Settlement to identify another farm for Mr Mashingaidze. But Minister Ncube recently renewed moves to remove Mr Cunningham.