By James Muonwa, Mashonaland West Correspondent
THE eviction this week of dozens of families that had settled on Old Citrus Farm in Chinhoyi, controversially owned by property mogul Phillip Chiyangwa, has exposed the local municipality’s complicity in the forced removals.
This is because the local council has literally thrown under the bus, the vulnerable poor families to protect the controversial businessman and Zanu PF Central Committee member’s interests.
The families were kicked out of the farm by the Messenger of Court with help from police and suspected Zanu PF functionaries, who unleashed violence, thereby forcing occupants to scurry for cover in nearby mountains where some are still holed-up.
Their makeshift homes were set on fire rendering them homeless.
A visit to the farm by NewZimbabwe.com this week painted a gloomy picture as remnants of the charred household property could be seen scattered all over with smoke still billowing from some wooden huts.
Chiyangwa occupies the farm, located on the edges of Chinhoyi where he primarily harvests maize.
However, a 2005 Presidential proclamation nullified a prior offer letter given to Chiyangwa, before the farm, along with seven others, was transferred to Chinhoyi Municipality for urban expansion.
The other farms are; Olympus Estates, Sangwe, St Ives, Strathcona, North Umzari, Sub A of Sinioa Drift, and Subdivision A of Sangwe.
According to investigations conducted by NewZimbabwe.com, Chiyangwa previously held a 10-year lease agreement with the local council which was subsequently cancelled over non-payment of lease fees.
A memorandum of understanding dated 5 February 2007, entered into between Chiyangwa (national registration number 08-033358-K-70) and council, states the Chinhoyi town council was the responsible authority of a certain piece of land being Old Citrus Estates measuring 3, 477, 46 hectares.
Further reads part of the lease agreement, “And whereas the leasee wishes to lease the said piece of land for commercial farming purposes to which council has agreed subject to certain terms and conditions, the leasee shall pay $50 000 per hectare per annum to the lessor for the first year of the lease and this fee shall be reviewed annually as the council reviews its other tariffs…
“That the period of the lease be 10 years renewable and the council offers the lessee first refusal for purchase of land thereat as and when the need arises either by yourself or council during the tenure of this lease.”
The deal also precluded Chiyangwa from making new developments on the farm without the prior written approval of Chinhoyi Municipality, among other conditions.
The lease agreement was subsequently cancelled on 24 April 2009 by then town clerk Ezekiel Muringani because the farm had been incorporated into the council area in terms of Statutory Instrument 52 of 2005, and had been handed over to the council by the government.
One of the reasons the council reversed the deal was Chiyangwa had defaulted paying lease fees and the local authority had resolved to carry out developmental projects on the farm.
“Council now intends to embark on its projects on Old Citrus and thus advises you to vacate the farm on 31 May 2009,” reads part of a letter addressed to the businessman.
However, the council has remained mum over the recent evictions of settlers and has also not taken any action as the rightful custodians of the land.
Chinhoyi town clerk Maxwell Kaitano was not picking his phone when attempts were made to contact him for comment, while Chiyangwa was unreachable on his mobile.
However, Chiyangwa and the council are still locked in a bitter fight that is still before the courts over the farm ownership.
A representative of the evictees told NewZimbabwe.com it was unfair for Chiyangwa to chase them away from the land that he was also allegedly illegally occupying.
“We understand Chiyangwa is also illegally occupying the farm, therefore, he has no right to evict us like we are not all citizens of this country. The council just folds its hands while we are fleeced of hard-earned money as we pay land barons US$100 or more to be allocated pieces of land to erect makeshift structures. We have nowhere else to go,” said the representative, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Last year, a Land Commission appointed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa that was chaired by Justice Tendai Uchena also raised eyebrows over the ownership status of Old Citrus farm.
During the probe, Chinhoyi council chamber secretary Abel Gotora failed to explain why the council had not moved to evict Chiyangwa, alleging they were failing to locate the businessman to serve him the papers to evict him.