MAHOFA DEATH LEAVES MANY PEOPLE STRANDED | Hundreds of illegal settlers who invaded sugar estates owned by the Zimbabwe units of South Africa’s Tongaat Hullett and have been shielded from eviction by Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Shuvai Mahofa have been left in a quandary.
Mahofa died on Monday last week after she collapsed at her Masvingo home.The 220 settlers, mostly Zanu PF loyalists, were illegally settled on 4 400 hectares of Tongaat Hullet sugarcane fields in the lowveld early last year.
The settlers occupied the cane fields with the blessing of Mahofa, who was also chairperson of the provincial lands committee.The settlers have been left stranded, with the agro-industrial giant refusing to buy their mature sugarcane.
Tongaat Hullet has been disputing the occupation of its land, which is protected under a bilateral agreement between Zimbabwe and South Africa.Mahofa, along with Psychomotor minister Josiah Hungwe, were accused of leading the land grab.
Earlier this month, President Robert Mugabe ordered police to remove the families who had moved onto the sugar estates owned by Tongaat’s Hippo Valley Estates and Triangle Sugar in southern Zimbabwe.
“Why would you want to take everything from white farmers? Get virgin land and stop being greedy. Surely, you cannot harvest where you did not sow,” Mugabe said in an unprecedented warning at a recent youth interface rally in Masvingo.
But the settlers have remained adamant.
They had approached the High Court seeking a reversal of government’s decision to withdraw their offer letters.
Tongaat Hullet is refusing to give the settlers milling accounts which would allow them to sell their crop to it, essentially closing them out of the sugarcane market.
The settlers also do not have growers’ numbers to prove their legitimacy as sugarcane growers.
Some of the farmers have telephoned the Daily News indicating that only a week after Mahofa’s death, they have been receiving eviction threats from individuals purporting to be working on behalf of Tongaat Hullet.
The farmers’ representative, Ailes Baloyi confirmed the developments yesterday.
“We have received reports of farmers that are being threatened with eviction daily. They are saying that since Mai Mahofa who was our shield is no more, we have been left weaker and easier to deal with,” he said.
“We are still waiting for the Tongaat Hullet to give us milling quotas and grower numbers so that we can sell the crop which is now costly to maintain since we have to keep irrigating it. There has not been any progress on that front,” the former Chiredzi South legislator said.
Another farmer claimed strangers claiming to represent Tongaat Hullet pitched at her plot on Saturday afternoon and advised her to leave before aggressive evictions are effected.
Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association national political commissar, Francis Nhando, who has fiercely backed the settlers, said a sense of uncertainty had engulfed the Lowveld over the issue.
“No one knows what to do at the moment. Most of them would have by now finished harvesting and preparing tendering for fresh shoots. We clearly understand Tongaat Hullet’s concerns because it also invested its money, but we are saying a solution should be found before it is too late,” he said.
Although Tongaat Hullet corporate affairs executive, Adelaide Chikunguru, declined to comment on the issue referring questions to the Lands and Rural Resettlement ministry, a senior company official, speaking on condition of anonymity for professional reasons, said it was highly unlikely that the company could change its mind.
“I don’t see them (farmers) winning. As we speak, they are not legitimate sugarcane growers. Varikungosimbisana chete but hapana chinobuda (they are only fooling each other but they will not win),” the official said.
Efforts to get comment from Lands and Rural Resettlement minister, Douglas Mombeshora, who is under fire for issuing the disputed offer letters he subsequently withdrew, were fruitless as he did not answer calls on his mobile phone.