Ndhlukula rejected as ambassador

Britain rejects Mugabe aide for ambassador post

The Times – Jan Raath in Harare

7 April 2016

Dr Ray Ndhlukula

One of President Mugabe’s most senior aides, notorious for illegally grabbing white-owned farms, has had his appointment to head the Zimbabwe’s London embassy rejected by the Foreign Office, sources said here yesterday.

There was no response from the ministry of foreign affairs in Harare, although sources who insisted on not being named, confirmed the affair. The Foreign Office would not comment. The previous ambassador was Gabriel Machinga. It could not be established for how long the post had been vacant.

Dr Ray Ndhlukula, a deputy secretary in Mugabe’s office, had had his name forwarded to London as ambassador-designate. His seizures of several farms in the western province of Matabeleland and his repeated flouting of court orders to leave them have been widely published in Zimbabwe’s independent newspapers.

Ndhlukula, 56, has continued to work in Mugabe’s office without any sign of being restrained. Observers say the case shows the immunity enjoyed by even ordinary administrators connected to him.

David Conolly was one of the most successful farmers in western Zimbabwe, producing vegetable crops under irrigation on his property, Centenary Farm in the arid Figtree area north of the western city of Bulawayo.

In September 2014, the farm was invaded by Ndhlukula’s aides, who drove the farmer’s 75 workers out of their dwellings – some of them had been working on Centenary since the 1960s – and moved in themselves. Conolly was also chased off and the farm was barricaded. Ndhlukula had previously seized two other farms in the area.

Conolly got a high court interdict against him, banning him from Centenary. Instead, he had his crops destroyed when Ndhlukula’s aides drove his cattle over Conolly’s fields.

In March last year, a high court judge sentenced Ndhlukula to 90 days in prison for violating court orders to get off Conolly’s land, but he ignored the injunction. No action was taken against him.

Instead, Conolly found himself charged by police with “occupying Centenary farm illegally.”

Ndhlukula appealed to Zimbabwe’s supreme court to have the orders of the lower courts against him thrown out, but his action was dismissed. Mr Conolly has persisted through the courts to try to force police to arrest and remove him from his farm, to no avail.

President Mugabe launched his “fast-track land reform programme” in April 2000, starting with the brutal murder of David Stevens, a successful young white farmer who also was a leading civil rights activist in his district in north-east Zimbabwe. Stevens was battered to a pulp by war veterans backing Mugabe, and then shot in the back of the head.

Several other farmers were murdered in the following weeks, while scores more were thrown violently off their land. The aim at first was simply political, to terrorise the estimated 500,000 farm workers on white-owned land. Mugabe had lost an election a few months earlier and was determined not to lose a national election in June that year.

Then the pattern changed swiftly from one of political necessity to patronage. Mugabe’s senior officials were able to walk on to farms with a band of thugs and drive the owners off, sometimes giving only an hour to get off.

In 2000, the 5,000 mostly highly productive commercial farms not only reaped ample food to feed the country’s people but also surpluses that fed other African nations. Perhaps 100 of them are left.

These farmers have had the sizes of their farms drastically reduced but still manage to farm skilfully and successfully.  They keep well away from publicity, counting themselves fortunate to have survived for so long, but ready for it to end within hours.

The land-seizures are seen as probably the most destructive blow inflicted on the country’s economy by Mugabe. The huge grain silos that still dot the countryside in the former cropping areas are empty and crumbling. Zimbabwe has become a net importer of food – which it cannot pay for.

David Conolly says there is hardly anything growing on his farm now. It is the same almost all over the country’s former commercial farming land – broken fences, crumbling homes, and the rolling fields where 16 years ago there were crops and cattle – nothing.