MUTARE - President Robert Mugabe has blocked a senior government official’s attempt to grab a farm from an elderly Zanu PF-affiliated white couple.
Francis Gudyanga, the Mines ministry permanent secretary, had kicked Tennis Zimbabwe honorary life president, Ann Pearson Martin, 73, and her 76-year-old husband Frank Thomas Martin out of their 660- hectare Five Streams Farm in Mutasa.
Gudyanga seized the property at the end of August after he had been granted an order by the High Court.
The order was enforced by a messenger of court with the aid of heavily-armed anti-riot police.
But the Zanu PF members in Mutasa district lobbied the president through the First Lady Grace Mugabe, who is Tennis Zimbabwe patron, to spare the couple.
Grace worked with Ann during her 12-year tenure as Tennis Zimbabwe president during the glory days of the sport.
Hundreds of local Zanu PF members also weighed in with petitions to “his excellency, the commander-in-chief of the defence forces and president of the Republic of Zimbabwe” to ensure the Martins’ continued ownership of the farm.
“We, the undersigned party leadership, war veterans, Zilwaco, Women’s League, Youth League and traditional leaders of Mutasa District Manicaland Province do hereby state categorically that we support Mr FT Martin to remain the rightful occupant of the remainder of Fivestreams Farm until he gets his offer letter for the same,” read the petition.
The Martins voluntarily ceded more than half their original farm after giving up 507 hectares which were taken over by one of the Central Intelligence Organisation bosses and another 220 hectares on which A1 farmers were resettled.
The Martins had remained with 660 hectares, of which only 220 ha is arable.
Following Mugabe’s intervention, the director of resettlement in the ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Elias Ziro, was ordered to accede to the Martins’ appeal.
In his High Court affidavit, Ziro said “the matter herewith has been tabled before the second respondent (Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement) who is considering the matter with the intention of coming up wit an amicable solution to the dispute.”
“Accordingly, it is the second respondent’s submission that the applicant should be allowed to continue in occupation of the said farm pending the above mentioned resolution,” the affidavit says.
According to minister of State in the president’s office Didymus Mutasa, the Martins’ farm was erronously taken from them and offered to Gudyanga
In a letter to the then Lands minister Hebert Murerwa seeking withdrawal of an offer letter from Gudyanga, Mutasa wrote: “Mr Martin is our member of Zanu PF from Mutasa district. We regret to have overlooked the matter and allocated his farm to Mr Gudyanga who is also a member of Zanu PF. This has caused serious discomfort within the local leadership in the district.
“We therefore request your good offices to withdraw Dr Gudyanga’s letter and allocate it to the sitting tenant Mr Martin. The governor of Manicaland Cde Mushowe has confirmed identification of a farm in Chipinge for Dr Gudyanga.
“This will be a better arrangement since no one will be deprived of his right as a Zanu PF member.”
But the withdrawal was never done in spite of more letters from Chief Mutasa, local district administrator and recently the acting district administrator.
Chief Mutasa, in a 2012 letter to Murerwa, pleaded that the Martins retain ownership of the remaining 660 hectares as “this was also recommended by the political party”, even stating that a letter had been “signed by the honourable Cde DNE Mutasa and was handed over to your office.”
The then Mutasa district administrator, in a letter to the provincial lands committee, also backed Martin’s retention of his farm.
“This letter serves to confirm that the District Lands Committee in its meeting ... recommended Frank Thomas Martin, ...be allocated the remaining extension of Five Streams Farm measuring 660 hectares,” read the letter.
Again the District Lands Committee recommended that Martin “continue with his farming activities,” according to a letter to the provincial chief lands officer written by the acting Mutasa district administrator.
All this, however, did not stop Gudyanga from claiming ownership of the farm on the strength of his offer letter. He has since been granted an eviction order which the Martins initially vainly tried to resist.
Employing 150 permanent employees, running a primary school at the farm with an enrolment of over 1 600 pupils, running a Tennis Academy at the farm called Mantis Tennis Academy which benefits gifted children through scholarships, as well as supporting local farmers and Zanu PF members with farming inputs, has reinforced the Martins’ grass roots support, which has been instrumental in sparing their farm.
Frank Martin said prior to the stay of eviction, their property was removed from their farm house.
“Riot squad and a messenger of court came in, loaded our furniture and everything in the house into trucks, took it up the road about a kilometre and dumped it out into the bush from where most of it was looted,” Martin said.