Mugabe takes over Highfields farm in Norton

The Zimbabwe Independent (Harare)
                                
June 11, 1999

Harare - A veil of secrecy surrounds government's intentions over the use of Highfields farm in Norton with sources saying it could be set aside for use by President Robert Mugabe, a three-week investigation by the Zimbabwe Independent has revealed.

The District Development Fund (DDF) is constructing a $10 million 10-km tarred road that branches off the Murombedzi/Zvimba highway towards Highfields farm in Norton.

The farm is believed to have been acquired in 1997 in a $2,5 million land transfer deal that never went public. There is a heavy security presence on the farm situated about 3 km from Norton's Katanga business centre.

The farm was originally owned by a Ms Marion Betty Munson. She informed the Ministry of Lands in 1996 that she wanted to sell the farm. The property measures 385 2494 ha and was transferred on December 12, 1996 from the previous owners.

It was not clear to whom the property had been transferred between the state and President Mugabe. When the Independent launched its investigations records of the property transfer at the Deeds Registry suddenly went missing, only to resurface with a new property transfer date.

Deeds Transfer file no. 9168/96 was reported to have been transferred to the lands Surveyor-General's office on May 30.

"I know about this file, we do not have it in our office," an official said.

He said the file was taken out on the pretext that they wanted to transfer the property into state land, raising questions about the December 12, 1996 transfer details. "Up to now it still has not been returned for storage," the official said.

He told the Independent that it would be difficult to access the file because it was "in use".

The records were then made available this week after further inquiries by the Independent.

The records indicate that the property was transferred into state land on June 2, 1999 - contradicting the December 12, 1996 transfer date.

"In terms of sections 5 of the Rural Lands Act (Chapter 20.18) the land was transferred into state land," file no.3417/99 of the records indicated.

George Charamba, the president's spokesperson, refused to respond to questions on whether the president owned the property as alleged by farm workers and independent sources.

"Go and check at the Deeds Registry and make inquiries with DDF," he said.

The Independent had already been to the Deeds Registry and found the file missing.

DDF director-general James Jonga did not respond to questions from the Independent which were faxed to him twice.

     The Minister of Lands and Agriculture Kumbirai Kangai said his ministry was not prepared to comment on the matter.

"The ministry advises you to talk to the people involved in the transactions," he said.

When the Independent visited the farm on May 25 and 31, several workers interviewed indicated that the farm belonged to Mugabe who has been making regular visits to the property.

One of the farm workers told the Independent that they had now spent about six months at the property and confirmed the president had made several visits.

"He comes here at least once a month. What happens here is very difficult to understand," he said.

Another woman who claims to have been working at the opposite farm for the past 10 years also said the farm belonged to the president.

"It was originally Chibhoyi's, (a nickname for the previous owner, Munson) before the president acquired it about two years ago," she said, adding that his visits were "erratic" and usually passes through during weekends from home (Zvimba).
 
DDF workers refused to disclose any details about the farm, maintaining that it was
  "difficult" to know the goings-on.

"Some of these guys used to say it belonged to ARDA [The Agricultural and Rural Development Authority], but we now know that the president is behind it," one of them said.

Heavy District Development Fund [DDF] equipment and diesel fuelling plant was located at the farm with several DDF workers when the Independent visited the farm.
  
The tarred road to the property is not yet complete and heavy caterpillars were busy
working the road that is now about a kilometre within reach.

Sources close to the Munson family who declined to be named told the Independent that she (Munson) was "arm-twisted" in the ensuing battle to have the farm sold in public to realise good returns.

"The ministry expressed an interest in the property," he said. "They wanted to go public but somebody in the Ministry of Lands indicated that it was not possible and we had to sell it through the ministry at a price below the market value," another relative said.

The Independent understands that the whole transaction was done at a time when one of the Munsons' relatives was extremely sick and hence failure by the family to fight for a fair deal in the disposal of the farm.
     
"They felt that indulging in a long tiresome process would create unnecessary headaches," one of the relatives said.

Another relative of the Munsons' who declined to be named indicated that the family was no longer interested in having the matter discussed.

"It's a thing of the past, we do not need any more headaches. We have had enough of this," he said.

"Whatever happened, it's now something else, I would not want to be followed by strange faces," he said.

Another relative of Munson, Peter Davies, told the Independent in a telephone interview that she would not want to have the issue brought to light.

"Be assured that Mrs. Munson does not want to discuss that issue anymore," he said.

An official with Redfern Mullet and Company, a chartered valuer and estate agency, who declined to be named for business reasons but confirmed having handled the transactions, told the Independent that the farm was sold to the state in 1996.

This however contradicts current records at the Deeds Registry which show that the farm was transferred into state land on June 2 last week.

"When you are selling a farm, you offer it to the government first and a certificate of no present interest issued which then means that you can go on the market for sale," he said.
           
"If the government expresses an interest, it will buy you out."

    "In this particular case the government expressed an interest and it was sold to the state." he said.

Copyright (c) 1999 Zimbabwe Independent.

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