NORTHERN EXPOSURE OP-ED (PART ONE)
Zimbabwe’s land grabs made Robert Mugabe the country’s biggest landowner
The Mugabe family became Zimbabwe’s biggest farming family during the ‘fast track land reform programme’ by coercing white farmers to give up their farms, by taking land from some black activists who had seized it from white farmers, and by purchases at retail prices far beyond what a presidential salary would have allowed.
New details of tens of thousands of hectares of the Mugabe family’s holdings are provided in court documents filed in divorce proceedings by Simbarashe Chikore, the estranged husband of the late president’s daughter, Bona Mugabe.
Chikore claims that many Zimbabwean farms taken during that time now belong to him and his wife and should be allocated equally between them. Many of his claims are for land taken prior to his glittering marriage in 2014, but they confirm the family’s connection to the spoils of the so-called “Fast Track Land Reform Programme”, which was ostensibly to provide deprived black Zimbabweans with no more than one farm each.
The vast holdings listed by Chikore and published in the pro-government Harare Herald newspaper show a clutch of farms taken by “war vets” soon ended as part of the Mugabe family holdings, some of which previous reporting shows were managed and funded by the state until the inclusive government was formed in 2009 and the practice was exposed.
Some of the farms still function effectively, but others, including the country’s premier dairy farm, which was Grace Mugabe’s early obsession, are now derelict. The list Chikore claims a share of includes luxury urban land in Harare’s suburbs, some of which was never paid for.
Chikore claims the former first family bought properties abroad, including one in Dubai where the Mugabes regularly spent Christmas. Chikore values this property at R157-million, according to his court papers. At the time, the Mugabes were holidaying annually on this property; several estate agents in Dubai said they were just renting it.
Chikore also claims his share of luxury vehicles in Dubai, including the family’s Rolls-Royce which he values at R15-million.
In his court papers, Chikore says this list, which includes 41 properties worth billions of rands, is just a drop in the ocean when “compared with what is certainly Ms Mugabe’s.” Chikore’s court papers say he “is not claiming even a thread thereof”.
The scale of the late president’s family holdings as a result of the land grab is no surprise to some locals, despite party policy that claimants are only entitled to one farm each.
Opposition MP and former farmer Rusty Markham has been saying for years that “(Robert) Mugabe, Grace, other relatives and their proxies seized more farm and urban land than any others” during the post-2000 land grab.
Chikore’s mother-in-law, Grace Mugabe, now divides her time between her Harare mansion known locally as Blue Roof, in the luxury suburb of Borrowdale, and regularly stays in Singapore. She was in Harare a couple of weeks ago when Chikore’s court papers were filed.
Chikore, a former airline pilot, argues that he is entitled to an equal share in properties acquired even before their marriage or donated to them, and that he contributed to paying for them through his savings as a pilot and from a farming venture, and from earnings and donations from his father-in-law for “work, jobs and special assignments” provided to the late president.
Chikore divided the family farm holdings he claims a share of into two broad categories – 20 “residential” farms and 21 “farms and properties”.
Zimbabwe’s problematic title rights make real valuations unreliable, but Chikore values the 20 “residential” farms at about $63-million, or R1.22-billion, covering tens of thousands of hectares.
The most valuable, 73 hectares of game farm at Helensvale, near Borrowdale, he values at $40-million, or R760-million, which is far higher than his mother-in-law paid.
Chikore has not given valuations for the remainder of the 21 family “farms and properties”, which include part of what had been the country’s premier dairy farm, and properties added to Highfield, the main family farm bought by Robert Mugabe at the start of the land grab in 2000.
Other members of the ruling Zanu-PF elite were also early beneficiaries, including Emmerson Mnangagwa, now Zimbabwe’s president. Mnangagwa chose to pay the white farmer whose land he took an undisclosed amount for his property, which he continues to farm.
So much for the “fast track land reform programme” billed as a solution to the problem of land hunger among ordinary Zimbabweans and war veterans who fought for land and liberation.
The late president’s second wife, Grace, set her sights on Zimbabwe’s premier dairy farm, named on title deeds as Foyle Farm in the Mazowe Valley, west of Harare and owned by Ian Webster. Webster bought the farm and developed it into the best dairy farm in the country. It was his only farm.
The then president’s wife arrived at Foyle Farm soon after the land grab began, along with agriculture minister Joe Made and several advisers.
Webster wanted to stay on Foyle Farm, but when Grace Mugabe arrived and made her intentions clear, Webster knew his Zimbabwe farming days were over. When Grace asked him for a price, he was relieved. He had hoped that he’d leave with something.
After some bargaining, he asked for about $6-million. Grace, who was close friends with the governor of the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono, told Webster to go to the 21st floor of the Reserve Bank building in central Harare to be paid. There, he was handed about 75% of the money in a bag, in local currency. Webster legally exchanged the money and left for Perth, Australia.
We don’t know whether Grace Mugabe simply got the money from government or whether she contributed, but we do know Mugabe’s presidential salary would never have covered such amounts.
Grace now owned the best dairy farm in Zimbabwe, complete with a modern dairy, skilled workers and superb farmland growing food for the dairy cows. It also had a gracious, old-style farmhouse, but her ambitions were bigger.
She massively upgraded the dairy, installed a top-quality plant to produce yoghurt, and rebuilt the farmhouse on a much larger scale.
Foyle Farm was renamed Gushungo Dairy Estate – Gushungo being Mugabe’s traditional family name. The highly publicised launch event was attended by German, South African and British suppliers.
Grace Mugabe installed her son from her first marriage, Russell Goreraza, as manager, and, extraordinarily, switched the main crop from cattle fodder to cabbages, a quick turnaround cash crop, and then had to buy food for her dairy cows. But neither she nor her son had experience managing the hard grind of dairy farming.
For a while, it did well and became known as the Alpha Omega Dairy, with its yoghurts seen in many supermarkets, and customers drove on to the farm and bought products from the farm shop.
But the dairy cows were not cared for well enough to produce enough milk. The size of top milkers in the herd shrank, and within a few years, the dairy was not producing enough milk to produce yoghurt or milk to cover costs. The dairy’s costs were too high, and Grace Mugabe began selling off equipment.
All that is left now is the ruins of the dairy, the large house and a free-standing cottage she built.
Former president Mugabe’s farming career in another part of the country was more successful. He bought Highfield, a property abutting the state’s huge Darwendale Dam, which is irrigated and still produces seed crops such as maize. Grace then set her sights on adding to Highfield with a set of farms adjoining Highfield – Tankara, John O’Groats, Cressydale and Clifford. Irrigated by the dam, they are also good producers of seed crops.
These properties were taken from white farmers early in the land grab by war vets – or by people hired by war vets or party officials, former soldiers or off-duty police, but soon the Mugabes took these farms over from the initial occupiers.
When the inclusive government came to power in 2009 and a journalist visited these small farms along the Darwendale Dam, one of them saw the pay sheets, interviewed the workers, and discovered that the department of agriculture was paying the farm workers and managing this clutch of farms. The state was then obliged to withdraw.
Chikore’s lawsuit against his estranged wife, Bona Mugabe, lists all four – Tankara, John O’Groats, Cressy Dale and Clifford – among their joint assets for which he wants his cut.
The Mugabes took the 800-hectare farm formerly known as Gwina in Mashonaland West from the then high court judge, Justice Ben Hlatshwayo. In an interview, the judge confirmed he had been allocated the farm formerly owned by prominent commercial farmer Vernon Nicolle, who emigrated to Australia, until the Mugabes took it from him.
The state had a role in redistributing land through the Agricultural Research Development Authority (Arda). But in at least one case, the land they acquired went to the Mugabes – the 1,300-hectare Mwenewazvo Farm, formerly known as Sigaro.
Arda mobilised equipment for the farm before the Mugabes took over the land. Since then, the ownership of Sigaro has been challenged in court by new regulations governing the size of farms.
Not all the Mugabe holdings were cheap or free.
Grace Mugabe went into game farming, paying full price for at least two game farms about 20km north of Harare. The larger one cost her $4-million which she bought from a Harare doctor and a second, much smaller and less expensive one from a wildlife enthusiast.
The Mugabes also own Iron Mask Estate in the Mazowe Valley, which is a consolidation of three properties – Greater B, Remainder of Iron Mask and Portion of Irene Estate.
A retired white couple who owned and lived there were forced off and left for South Africa. Here, Grace built two upmarket fee-paying schools, an orphanage and accommodation for teachers. These buildings remain occupied and she visited the property earlier this month.
The owner listed for this land is Grace Mugabe Children’s Home which has a total of 1,399 hectares.
Grace took over a large farm near Banket, about 120km north of Harare, but gave it to her sister. Interestingly, Chikore’s lawsuit claims a share of at least part of this estate too.
Nearly all rural land invasions had stopped by 2009, with the induction of the inclusive government, and have not resumed.
However politically unfair, illegal and chaotic the land grab, it provided tens of thousands of small-scale farmers with small pieces of land. But, with the new constitution in 2013, confiscated land is characterised as state land and normal title deeds are not available.
Those who took farms from whites and are registered as operators are supposed to pay minimal taxes to the state to maintain access roads, fences and dams, but most do not, so infrastructure continues to deteriorate.
Around Mazowe, the Mugabe family acquired five farms with another game reserve. The consolidated farms are Manzou Farm, Surtic Ranch, Arnolds Farm, Maggiesdale Farm and Glenbervile with a combined size of 16,000 hectares. Chikore only claims a share of Surtic. It is not clear at present how much of this land is occupied or used by the Mugabe family.
There were reports that the Mugabes occupied some peri-urban land around the Pomona suburb in northern Harare, but local people say they do not know some of the names of the land quoted by Chikore in his claim, or who is now actually growing maize on some of the land he claims the Mugabes own.
According to Chikore, one of these properties is the 310-hectare Kaseplan Farm, which apparently had people living there who were evicted by the police. Kaseplan is located near Mugabe’s Blue Roof mansion.
On the list of farms Chikore claims belong to the Mugabes is Bucklands Farm, originally named Buckland Estate. This 310-hectare farm is next to Wild Geese Lodge, 20km outside Harare, which is a luxury lodge where many upmarket weddings are held.
There are other chunks of peri-urban land around this area of Harare which locals say they suspect was taken by the Mugabes, but this has not been independently confirmed.
Last week, Arosume Property Development, a developer in the Carrick Creagh Estate area who became the latest group to take land from the legal white landowner, Andrew Newmarch, in which Chikore claimed the couple owned several chunks of land, denied this was the case.
“It has come to our attention… in the matter between Bona Mugabe and Simbarashe Chikore, that between the two of them, they claim to own 213,794m² of Carrick Creagh Estate, land listed under various stand numbers in their divorce papers. We advise the public that the two are not owners of the said stands,” the company said in a statement.
Grace Mugabe had claimed a clutch of these upmarket plots in Carrick Creagh Estate. Bona Mugabe and her husband bought, dirt cheap, two chunks of land, in the peri-urban area of Umwinsidale, near Carrick Creagh.
This land was designated by the city council for a school. It was never clear how they got their hands on this land, and got some Chinese builders to bulldoze parts of the hill for an access road to the top of the hill, where they began to build a three-storey mansion. Nearby, Bona Mugabe appears to run an upmarket wedding venue for Harare’s elite.
An estate agent in northern Harare also said that Bona Mugabe bought other properties in some of Harare’s smarter suburbs since her marriage, but declined to reveal details.
She is believed to be living in a relatively modest home in the Mount Pleasant suburb first lived in by her father, Robert Mugabe, and his first wife, Sally, after the couple returned from exile in Mozambique at the end of the bush war in 1979.
Simba Chikore left his job with Qatar Airways to get married after he failed to achieve promotion to captain.
Five years ago, he imported two Boeing 777s from Malaysia Airlines for inclusion within the remains of bankrupt Air Zimbabwe, but service did not resume. DM
John Matisonn began his career on the Rand Daily Mail, received a prison sentence for refusing to divulge a source in the Muldergate scandal, and spent six years as a foreign correspondent in Washington DC before returning home as a foreign correspondent. After four years as a regulator on what is now the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (formerly the Independent Broadcasting Authority), he had two tours in Afghanistan as a senior United Nations official. Matisonn has published two books, God, Spies and Lies, Finding South Africa’s Future Through its Past, and Cyril’s Choices, an Agenda for Reform. He is currently working on developmental policies to revive the South African economy.
Peta Thornycroft received a Lifetime achievement award from the International Women’s Media Foundation at a ceremony in New York in 2007 in recognition of her journalism in dangerous places throughout southern Africa. After attending the University of KwaZulu-Natal, she began her career at the Daily News in Durban and went on to cover apartheid murderers, wars in Angola, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique and South Africa’s secret chemical and biological warfare projects. While covering land grabs and the rise of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, she was arrested and imprisoned for six days in eastern Zimbabwe in 2002.