Paramount chief angered by white safari operator’s eviction

MEDIA RELEASE: ZIMBABWE FARM EVICTION                   

Ben Freeth, Mike Campbell Foundation, Zimbabwe

22 April 2019

Zimbabwe: Eviction of white photographic safari operator and farmer

angers local paramount chief

 

The highly respected Paramount Chief of the Ndiweni people in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland province, Chief Nhlanhla Felix Ndiweni, has spoken out strongly against the government’s decision to evict popular Ntabazinduna white farmer and photographic safari operator, Brian (Buz) Davies and his wife Carol from their property.

The couple was served with an eviction notice on April 9 by a former employee, Floyd Ambrose, despite his signing a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Davies family in 2014.

The eviction notice was issued by the magistrate’s court in Bulawayo and they were given just six days in which to pack up and leave.

According to the agreement, the Davies family moved back into their safari lodge, which Ambrose had ruined through negligence and neglect, while Ambrose moved into the Davies’s remaining homestead in 2014.

Mr and Mrs Davies lodged an urgent appeal on Friday April 12, which was set down by the court for April 17, but they have now been informed that it will only be heard on April 29.

Their once highly successful farming enterprise, located at Ntabazinduna, about 30km north east of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, has been in the family for more than 66 years. It was purchased legally by Mrs Davies’s grandfather, Jack Parsons, in 1953.

               Mr and Mrs Davies are the son-in-law and daughter of the late Peter Parsons, who was chairman of Colcom, the commercial subsidiary of the National Pig Breeders’ Co-op, which was set up in 1943 and was a forefather of pig production in Zimbabwe.

The Parsons/Davies family was the largest pig producer in the country, with over 12,000 pigs, a large cattle herd, a commercial crocodile farm and a well-established and very successful photographic safari operation.

With the permission of Chief Nhlanhla Ndiweni’s father, the late Paramount Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, they built Chief’s Lodge on the top of Ntabazinduna Hill, a famous historical site that is important in the Ndebele culture. Chief Ndiweni named the Davies family custodians of Ntabazinduna Hill and the family promised to preserve it.

The family employed more than 350 staff who, together with their families, were wholly reliant on income generated from the farming and photographic safari operations. 

The employees and their families – more than 2,000 people in total - were all housed on the farm. The Parsons/Davies family built a school for the employees’ children, which is still supported by the Davies family. 

 Chief Ndiweni expressed his anger at the eviction and told the media that the College of Amakhosi and the Ndebele nation totally and emphatically rejected the eviction.

               “It is an eviction that will never be accepted and will continuously be challenged on the ground, locally, regionally and internationally,” he said.

               The College of the Amakhosi has called for the US government and the European Union to increase the targeted sanctions and travel bans placed selectively on members of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration.

               “Relaxing or removing the sanctions upon this administration will only serve to make life even harder for the local people,” Chief Ndiweni said.

               “A good administration would never in a million years proceed with such an eviction, which is a disaster for the family concerned and the local people,” he stressed. He said he would do everything in his power to block the eviction.

Prominent Bulawayo-based human rights lawyer and former minister of education in the coalition government (2009-2013), David Coltart, has described the eviction as senseless.

“This is just ludicrous – the so-called new dispensation says that land invasions have stopped and yet this family is being forced from their home and business,” he said.

“This (Chief’s Lodge) is a tourist facility, located near Bulawayo’s airport … it is only 21 hectares and was a lodge until it was trashed by the same person trying to take it over again. Buz and Carol Davies have been renovating the lodge over the last few years with a view to opening it again, but now out of sheer greed a Zanu-PF-connected person wants it,” Coltart added.

               Despite Mnangagwa’s reassurances, efforts to grab productive agricultural enterprises are continuing at a time when the country is once again experiencing severe drought conditions in certain districts, as well as the devastating consequences of the 19-year farm chaos.

On February 28, the United Nations and Zimbabwean authorities launched a massive appeal for US$234m for more than five million people – around one third of the population - who are in need of urgent food due to drought and a weak economy.

This amount was increased to US$613 million following the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai which battered the east of the country during mid March. Of this, about US$300 million would be required for food aid. Mnangagwa has now admitted that the number of people needing urgent food aid has risen to 7.5 million, almost half of the population, both rural and urban.

ENDS

For further information:

Ben Freeth, Spokesman for SADC Tribunal Rights Watch, Zimbabwe

Executive Director, The Mike Campbell Foundation

Cell:  +263 773 929 138 (Zimbabwe) ; Cell Mozambique: +258 86 480 9644 (Easter holiday period)     

E-mail:  benfreeth7@gmail.com  Website: www.mikecampbellfoundation.com

EDITORS’ NOTES / BACKGROUND INFORMATION AND EVENTS

Farm listed for resettlement in 2000

The Parsons/Davies farm was identified and listed for resettlement by President Mugabe’s ZANU PF government in 2000, the year that the farm invasions began, and which were subsequently justified by Mugabe as a “land reform programme”.

The family then spent many years trying to get the farm delisted, with the support of the late Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, who passed away in 2010, as well as the local community and large commercial companies that the farm supplied.

They were Colcom Foods Ltd, Zimbabwe Council for Tourism, the Crocodile Farms Association of Zimbabwe, and the Cold Storage Company Ltd (CSC).  

Despite these efforts, coupled with the fact that this is a region that experiences low annual rainfall and is subject to periodic seasonal droughts and severe dry spells during the rainy season, the farm was divided up into many small, impractical agricultural plots and parcelled out.

Like so many other taken-over farms, the Parsons/Davies’s farm has been reduced to a non-productive tract of land with a few plot holders trying to eke out a meagre income by selling firewood cut from the environment and attempting unsuccessfully to grow crops. 

The infrastructure and pig sties have all been vandalised.  The wildlife in the photographic safari area has been poached relentlessly, and the 32km of electric game fence has been destroyed.

Verbal permission from Lands Ministry to remain

The Ministry of Lands assured the Davies family verbally that they could remain in their homestead, but due to the economics and the hindrances to farming operations by the new settlers, production on a commercial scale was no longer possible or viable. 

In 2010, Floyd Ambrose, who used to be employed by the Davies family as a safari guide at their lodge, was given an offer letter by the Ministry of Lands for the part of the farm where Chief’s Lodge is located. 

Ambrose then tried unsuccessfully to run a tourism venture at Chief’s Lodge and when that failed, he turned to farming, using the en-suite guest bedrooms of the lodge as farm buildings. 

When his farming operation also failed, he continued to live at the lodge but with no upkeep or maintenance, the lodge deteriorated substantially. 

Thatched roofs were destroyed by fire because no firebreaks were burnt, water pipelines burst and were not repaired, and sewage systems blocked and were allowed to overflow.

As a result, the beautiful tourist lodge was reduced to a few dilapidated huts and Ntabazinduna Hill, which is sacred to the Ndebele people, has been wantonly desecrated.

In 2014, the Davies family, because of sentimental reasons - their ancestors are also buried on the hill - and their promise to the late Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, they negotiated to swap their remaining homestead with Ambrose for what remained of Chief’s Lodge. 

This initiative was encouraged by the late chief’s sons, notably the incumbent Paramount Chief, Nkosi Nhlanhla Felix Ndiweni, as well as the chiefs of Matabeleland. Consequently a formal agreement was entered into and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by both parties.

The Davies family therefore moved into Chief’s Lodge and started restoring it, making it the only home and residence for themselves, their children and the last four remaining staff members. 

This was welcomed by the chief and the community, in the hope that one day Chief’s Lodge could be opened again as a National Heritage Site and cultural tourism facility.

Just one year after the swap, however, with all of Ambrose’s agricultural projects having failed, he moved off the farm and into town. By 2017, he had totally ceased all operations and had moved his remaining furniture and livestock off the farm. He was off the property for two years.

Ambrose then informed the Davies family that he wanted to move back to Chief’s Lodge, on which they have now spent a substantial amount of money to restore it and get it functional again. He told them that he wanted to cancel the MOU. 

The MOU was to have remained in effect until the swap had been formalised by the Ministry of Lands.  At the time, verbal permission had also been granted by the Provincial Lands Office and the Davies family had persevered in its efforts to get the swap formalised by the Ministry.

Although Mr and Mrs Davies delivered copies of the agreed MOU and business plan to the Provincial Lands Office, and to all the local committees so that they would have confirmation in writing, the Provincial Lands Office used ongoing stalling tactics to avoid signing the documents.

At the close of 2017, Ambrose applied to the magistrate’s court for the Davies family to be evicted.  This case has been defended and has been before the court for the past 18 months. 

The Davies family also met with the Minister of Lands, Perrance Shiri, who advised them verbally to remain at Chief’s Lodge until such time as the Ministry had regularised the occupation of Chief’s Lodge. 

As the Ministry was aware of the swap and had no objection, this was followed up with a letter of support from the legal department of the Ministry. 

Eviction notice delivered for 15 April 2019

Despite this, the magistrate’s court in Bulawayo ruled in favour of Ambrose and an eviction notice was delivered to the Davies home on Tuesday April 9 to vacate by Monday April 15.  This was delivered by 15 people acting for the messenger of the court, who at the same time physically seized personal property. 

The Davies family and their lawyers have put in a notice of appeal to the High Court, citing that a magistrate’s court has no jurisdiction over a matter under the land reform programme. 

They also contacted Minister Shiri, but he told them he could not help. He has subsequently promised to put together some paperwork to enable them to return to their original farm homestead, and not to stay at Chief’s Lodge.

However this homestead has now also been damaged and has deteriorated with no upkeep undertaken by Ambrose.  This compromise is therefore not an acceptable solution to this ongoing saga.  

The Davies family cannot return to a damaged property and walk away from Chief’s Lodge, the alternative home they have painstakingly – and at considerable expense - restored over the past five years

ENDS

For further information:

Ben Freeth

Spokesman for SADC Tribunal Rights Watch, Zimbabwe

Executive Director, The Mike Campbell Foundation

Cell:  +263 773 929 138 (Zimbabwe) ;

E-mail:  benfreeth7@gmail.com

Website: www.mikecampbellfoundation.com