Zimbabwe army ‘fire gunshots, teargas at farmers’

Zimbabwe’s gung-ho military will once again have to defend itself in court after being accused of running amok recently and “grabbing” more land for its use — this time from a group of farmers.

As a result, the High Court is set to hear how soldiers fired gunshots and teargas at the farmers — who are resisting eviction to make way for the establishment of an army base near Domboshawa, one of the country’s prime farming areas.

The aggrieved farmers want the court to declare the establishment of the military cantonment illegal and invalid.

This is the second time in as many weeks that the military is having to defend itself in court over allegations of “grabbing” land from its owners.

At the beginning of this month, listed major mining firm — RioZim Limited — also sued Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri in the High Court, after one of its mines was grabbed by two military-linked companies.

In this case, Muchinguri-Kashiri was said to have unilaterally declared a portion of RioZim’s mining concessions in the Darwendale area a military zone.

In the latest application, the affected farmers have accused the military of engaging in terror — arguing further that a 2006 government notice which placed their farms under a military zone was illegal.

Muchinguri-Kashiri and Zimbabwe National Army commander Edzai Chimonyo are among those cited as respondents.

“This is a court application in which we seek Section 6 of Statutory Instrument 93 of 2006 (Defence (Cantonments) Notice, 2006 (No. 44) declared invalid and unconstitutional.

“For the sake of brevity, I have taken up loans for irrigation infrastructure, including drilling boreholes and laying underground pipes, overhead irrigation systems and drip irrigation facilities.

“My fellow applicants in the various rights have also done the same and also fenced their farms and established paddocks as security over the farms.

“We have also built houses and other farm structures, prepared the land to enable tilling as most of the land was virgin land and have purchased farming implements and herd of cattle,” Samuel Harry Mandiri, one of the applicants, said.

“The (State’s) Statutory Instrument notified the public that six areas … have been declared an establishment of the Zimbabwe National Army and it is within these coordinates that our farms are situated.

“The operation has resulted in our leased farms being made military-controlled areas … the first respondent’s (Muchinguri-Kashiri’s) actions have been unlawful and unconstitutional and quite clearly that declaration in Section 6 to the instrument and activities of the respondents must be set aside,” Mandiri said further.

He also states that all the applicants were allocated farms in 2002, during the government’s fast-track land reform programme under the A2 phase, in which they got land in areas between Mazowe and Goromonzi.

Sometime in February 2016, the military had started issuing out notices against the new farmers to vacate their land — and the illegal tactics employed in this regard included the use of force.

“The third respondent through its personnel appeared and intensified their illegal activities intending to evict us from our land by employing unorthodox means to gain control and possession of the area, hence dehumanised us and our workers by assaulting and burning down all our grass-thatched structures on the farms.

“At one point the third respondent unleashed an individual called major Joe Ndomene who tear-gassed us in our sleep and fired shots at us for protesting against these illegal action.

“We however, managed to obtain an interdict against the third respondent,” court papers reveal.

Muchinguri-Kashiri, in her opposing papers, says the farmers’ application was not properly before the court because they failed to cite the Lands minister as one of the respondents, despite him being an interested party.

She said the Defence ministry was, however, in talks with the Lands ministry to get alternative land for the farmers.

“The ministry of Defence has no intention to displace the applicants outside the confines of this constitutional provision.

“The ministry is fully aware that there is that need for compensation in terms of the irrigation infrastructure and developments which were made by the applicants on the land,” she said — adding that the value of these improvements should be determined by the court.

She also said that once any land was declared a military zone, non-military personnel were no longer allowed around such an area, for national security reasons.

Muchinguri-Kashiri further denied accusations that the army was using dirty tactics to evict the farmers and called for the dismissal of the matter.

Early this month RioZim told the High Court that government’s decision  to grab one of its mines for the setting up of a military base was unlawful and “irrational”.

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