How can Violet Gonda compare Dr Chihombori's medical practice in America to a white farmer's farm. Did Dr Chihombori rob or loot the practice from some American native or receive it from an ancestor who looted some American native at gun point?
This sister is a fool.
Broadcast: July 10, 2009
Violet Gonda: The land issue is a very emotive one for Zimbabweans. On the Hot Seat this week we attempt to get to the bottom of this contentious issue with guests Dr Arikana Chihombori and John Worsley Worswick. Dr Chihombori is an American citizen of Zimbabwean origin and has been at the centre of controversy since her attempt to take over a commercial farm in the Chegutu area. She also hit the headlines when she accompanied the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to the inauguration of the South African President Jacob Zuma.
The MDC say that she is Tsvangirai’s niece and there has been concern that a member of the prime minister’s family is involved in illegal farm grabs. John Worsley Worswick is a spokesperson for the pressure group Justice for Agriculture and has been campaigning for many years on behalf of the commercial farmers. Let’s start with Dr Chihombori – you are planning to take over a farm in the Chegutu area that is owned already by the Cremer family, why?
Arikana Chihombori: Well let me start by correcting your statement – I have never tried to take over a farm, period. I have an offer letter, this application for land was put in over seven years ago and like I said to you at one point the initial offer letter also turned out to be a double allocation which was fine by me because the acreage was a little larger than I thought my sister could handle. It wasn’t until over a year ago that another offer letter was given and again I never had the opportunity to view any land. The same was true with the first property, I’d never seen it before, the land was allocated, it was vacant and my assumption was, when the second offer letter came with 60 hectares, I felt comfortable that my sister could work a smaller plot and I’d never seen it before. I never was given a choice to choose so I assumed it was another available land just like the previous one was. So I’ve never tried to take any land, I only have an offer letter, plain and simple. So I did not choose whether it was going to be Chegutu or Mutare or anywhere, I had no choice. I don’t even know why this particular plot was offered to me, an offer letter is all I have.
VG: OK, you are an American citizen and I understand you have a large medical practice in the US where you have lived for the last 30 years, so how do you qualify for an offer letter?
AC: When I applied, if I remember correctly, I had to also be qualified in terms of my ability to operate a farm, financially that is and my assumption was they felt comfortable that I would be able to support a farm financially. But this was over seven years ago, it’s probably getting close to eight, nine years ago, I can’t tell you exactly when I put in the application but I felt that it was because financially I could support a farm.
VG: I spoke to the Cremers and they said your sister first came to their farm with an offer letter that was dated 2007 and then later on one that was dated December 2008, so does this mean you were given three offer letters?
AC: Like I said, my sister has my power of attorney, of course you can only get one offer letter. The first offer letter was the one that was the double allocation and I’m told the DA was asked to straighten that situation. It was my assumption that I was going to be allocated a smaller portion of the original offer but to my surprise, a totally different farm was offered other than the one that was originally offered which I thought was simply going to be sub-divided and I would be allocated a smaller portion of that original offer, but that did not happen.
VG: On the issue of your status, I am presuming that you have dual citizenship, an American citizenship and a Zimbabwean citizenship?
AC: Well when I put in the initial application I was still a permanent resident in the US, I have subsequently become a citizen.
VG: But in Zimbabwe, dual citizenship is not allowed.
AC: To be honest with you, it really did not matter as far as I was concerned, my sister was going to work the land but secondly it is my understanding that we are now allowed, dual citizenship is now allowed in Zimbabwe.
VG: John, what are your thoughts on this?
John W. Worswick: Well Violet what I have heard so far highlights the chaotic nature of this so-called land reform programme that we’ve witnessed over the last nine years in the country, multiple offer letters, I’m led to believe the first offer letter was for a farm that was already derelict and probably wouldn’t have been attractive at all. The comments in terms of not being involved in the violent take over is not true because according to the Cremers’ testimony, Dr Chihombori’s sister went there with thugs and put thugs in place on the farm in January of this year with a view these were invaders, indisputably invaders onto the property and the only reason that they pulled off the property was they argued three days later that they were not being paid enough to drive this eviction.
AC: Actually I would like to disagree with that particular story. Look, prior to coming to Zimbabwe in May of this year, I had not been to Zimbabwe for almost 20 months, my last visit to Zimbabwe was in 2007, I want to say August or September. So as far as what was happening on the farm, I can only go by what my sister told me. I am aware of the situation when she went with the, I’m not sure if it was the land officer or just someone from the lands office in Chegutu and that is the situation I discussed with you pertaining to the abuse that took place. Other than that I know she has been back on the farm, again trying to talk to Mr Cremer. The story about trying to invade the farm, I’m not familiar with it. In January certainly I hadn’t been to Zimbabwe, since the previous year.
JW: Can I come in there - yes, indisputably it was Dr Chihombori’s sister that was there in January that went onto the farm with these invaders but indisputably also she was acting probably with the power of attorney of Dr Chihombori but certainly acting as her agent on that front. I’d also like to comment on the dual citizenship issue in that provision has been made in the next amendment to the Constitution which has not even been debated in parliament at this stage to allow for dual citizenship but as we stand at the moment, and certainly at the time of these two offer letters the law states basically that from the moment Dr Chihombori accepted American citizenship and swore an oath of allegiance to the United States of America, it automatically rescinded her Zimbabwean passport and she became ineligible and the onus was on her at that stage to avail yourself of the law and be aware of exactly the circumstances of accepting that offer letter.
AC: Well I am aware, this is what I’ve been told that the current unity government document does state that dual citizenship is allowed. The offer letter was given prior to my becoming a citizen, but again, that’s neither here nor there.
VG: What about the process though of taking farms. You’ve said that you were given an offer letter but do you think that is how it should be done that a person can just be given an offer letter and you just walk onto someone’s farm and say I’m taking it over? I don’t know, what can you say about that?
AC: I think that is rather a crude way of putting it as it is my understanding that according to the Lancaster agreement of 1980, the land reform was going to take place and also the Lancaster agreement clearly stated the process which land reform was going to occur. It’s also my understanding that the process of allocating, re-allocating the land started with Section Three letter. The Section Three letter was supposed to give the farmer three years and during these three years the farmer is supposed to come and negotiate with the government, put in an application, identify which section of his farm the farmer was going to keep and the rest would be re-allocated. Keep in mind some of the farmers owned thousands of hectares, so clearly I’m hoping John, that we are in agreement that the land reform needed to take place, the inequalities pertaining to land needed to be addressed.
So after three years, if the farmer had not approached the government or submitted an application, a Section Five letter would be issued and I’m also told this Section letter would give the farmer six months to come and submit an application for an allocation for a smaller piece of land or negotiate with the government which ever way and if again the farmer continued to disregard the Section Five letter, the final letter would be the Section Eight. By the time Section Eight letter was issued it was the understanding that the farmer was unwilling to negotiate with the government, unwilling to apply for a smaller portion of the previous farm and it was after the Section Eight letter that the government was now free to reallocate the farm as it wished as the farmer would not have been willing to apply for a smaller portion.
With that backdrop it seems to me there was enough time given for a farmer who was willing to clearly say let’s do what’s right. Surely how can someone have 20000 hectares, 80000 hectares. The process itself, I may be wrong in how I see it, but I think if that was followed, it seems to me the allocation, the land reform programme would have gone on a little bit smoother but when farmers refuse to put in an application, refuse to agree to share the land, then it started a totally different problem. Where we end up after that it just depends on human feelings.
VG: I’ll come to John just now to get his reaction to this but still Dr Chihombori, with the current chaotic process don’t you think there should be proper procedures that should be followed to redistribute land to all who needs it?
AC: I quite agree with you. Yes there needs to be proper procedures and like I said that was my understanding the three letters. It seems to me it was a procedure that if followed, could work but unfortunately you are dealing with issues of beneficiaries and dispossessions and it is a touchy issue. So even when you try to deal with it in the best of environments, it is a difficult situation no doubt about it.
VG: John do you agree that land redistribution was long overdue?
JW: Yes absolutely Violet I don’t think you’ll find a single Zimbabwean especially a Zimbabwean farmer that would argue against the necessity for the equal distribution of the land in Zimbabwe although the statistics have been distorted by the propaganda. We have been all for meaningful land reform but certainly what we’ve seen in the last nine years, ten years since the start of the land invasions is absolute chaos.
I’d like to comment on Dr Chihombori’s ignorance with regard to the legal procedure in Zimbabwe because what she is saying there would have been heaven for us here in Zimbabwe in terms of due process, it’s not the case at all and I think it needs to be clarified.
The original Land Acquisition Act which was brought in in 1992 was a just Act and it involved merely a preliminary notice of acquisition, a Section Five notice which had a validity of two years and gave a farmer due warning. He then would be involved in a court process through a Section Seven having a fair hearing in a court of law to argue his case and win it on merit if the State, and it was incumbent on the State to prove the necessity of taking the land and the suitability of the piece of land being targeted.
Now what we saw in 2002 was the 2002 May amendment to the land acquisition act, wherein a Section Eight which in itself was an acquisition order and an eviction order rolled into one could be issued to a farmer ahead of a Section Seven. So a farmer could be evicted off his property within 90 days of receiving a Section Eight and never been called to court at all and farmers had the right to object on receipt of a Section Five preliminary notice and most farmers did, not all but certainly most farmers did object because the process of acquisition now was absolutely unjust in that it could take a farmer two years, having been kicked off his farm, illegally evicted, it could take him two years before he had a fair hearing in a court and if he won his case at that stage it would be an empty victory in that he would be returning to a farm that was now derelict and this is where the problem started.
We saw many other very unjust laws put in place, there was another amendment that year that allowed for the targeting now of any property that had been under agricultural use over the last 50 years which brought into the target sphere for acquisition urban properties and we’ve had urban properties targeted, anything over two hectares has been targeted for acquisition and deemed to be suitable and necessary.
We then had the repealing of Sections 6A and Six B of the Act, of the Land Acquisition Act and this was a provision whereby farmers could cede property, either old farms if they were multi farm owners or parts of their farm to protect the residual part of the farm and at the time had political policy put in place in terms of maximum farm sizes and we had in excess of 1200 farmers who went down this road and gave away farms and part of their farms and that at the end of the day because three years later we saw the repealing in 2004, we saw the repealing of Sections Six A and Six B of the Act and even in spite of some farmers having formalised this agreement to cede land to the State to protect the residual part of their farm, in the administrative courts there was no basis in law with the repeal of Section Six A and Six B - those farmers were now in a very precarious position out there having ceded property.
We then eventually got to 2005 where there were 4500 cases in the administrative court challenging the acquisition process as having been flawed. We have thousands of cases in the High Court with court orders that were allowing farmers to go back onto their farms but these are not being upheld because of the breakdown of the rule of law in farming areas and the police not prepared to support the sheriff in reinstating these farmers back on their farms.
So the whole legal process at that stage was totally flawed and with all the amendments, 17, to the constitution of Zimbabwe promulgated and in one fell swoop the land was nationalised and from that moment onwards, any farmer that had received a Section Five notice, preliminary notice of acquisition was now deemed to be State land. And certainly this quite recently has been struck down or deemed by the SADC court to be in conflict with SADC protocols and should never have been enacted in the first place. Even at the time, the advice from the legal fraternity was that it conflicted with other parts of Zimbabwe’s constitution.
Now given what Dr Chihombori has said in terms of her perception of what the law was, certainly as a Zimbabwe citizen looking to become a beneficiary of land, certainly I believe it should have been incumbent upon her to make herself aware of the legal process and to make sure that the legal process had been followed because we are talking about the displacement of farming families and although the world seemed to focus on commercial farming families and we’ve only got 4500 of those originally, we’re talking about displacement on average of 140 farm worker families on each property.
So today on the farm worker committee we’re talking about close on to 600 000 families, total population of about 1.8 million people, we’ve had 90% of them displaced and we’ve had gross human rights violations on farms to the extent that we believe it constitutes a crime against humanity and we have a situation where we are recording mortality amongst the farm worker community directly attributable to this of in excess of 20% and could be even over 30%.
VG: Let me bring in Dr Chihombori, what can you say about this because I remember the last time we spoke you had much to say about the treatment of farm workers on commercial farms and also if I may begin by getting your reaction to what John said in this interview where he said your “pretty ignorant” to quote his words on the issues to do with the legal processes, what can you say about this?
AC: The issues that he raised in terms of the various amendments, to expect me to have kept up with the various amendments is ridiculous. If you simply put in an application, do you really need to go in and investigate the laws of the country as a citizen to say am I entitled to be applying for a mortgage loan? Do you investigate the amendments that have been done to one’s ability to obtain a loan from a bank? Of course not. So to expect me to have kept up with the laws and the amendments and the constitution – that’s ridiculous so I won’t even go there. That’s a discussion that John at some point hopefully Violet will have someone from the government to discuss those issues.
I am not representing the government in any way, the conversation that I’m here to have according to Violet is what has happened and everything else particularly pertaining to the treatment that my sister received and what I know as just a regular individual what’s happening in my own perception and understanding of what I’ve seen on the ground. Now I’m not going to stand here and answer on policies to do with the Zimbabwean government, I’m not representing the government and therefore those questions should be left to someone from the government.
Now moving on to your next question about mistreatment or rather what I’ve always perceived as human rights violations on the farms, let me start by saying there was a question of how did I get the Cremer farm. I did call the minister of lands in Chegutu and specifically posed him that question – how did you choose to give me this particular farm, unlike any other farm or the previous allocation two, three years ago. They really couldn’t give me a response except that he was one of the farmers who refused to put in an application for his own allocation, so that was the response that I was given. And I was also further told that those farmers who have put in an application for land have been allocated land.
The other farmers who did not get land allocated is because they didn’t put in their applications. Mr Cremer I am told is one of them. That is the only reason they would give me as to why they gave me that farm. Let me also make another point that the original farm that was allocated a few years ago it had a homestead, my sister was not interested in homestead, the farm was close enough to Harare, she was fine with just a smaller allocation of that farm. You could drive back and forth from Harare to the farm, it was not far from the farm at all so in terms of saying the farm is developed I don’t even know what the Cremer farm has except what I saw in passing in May, there was some flower growing going on, other than that I have no clue what the Cremer farm has.
So the issue of saying this farm is developed, and some other farm was not developed is mute, the previous farm was quite fine by my sister and the homestead had nothing to do with it.
Now the abuse of other farmers by the current workers, now the reason I agreed to have this dialogue is because I feel as a human being understanding a simple land issue that is Zimbabwe, it’s a complicated situation, it’s a very difficult situation we all end up in. You have those who have been dispossessed, now you are looking at both sides
The white farmers can look at themselves as beneficiaries at one point but are now considering themselves dispossessed. But you could also take the blacks and call them beneficiaries currently but are previous dispossessed. So it’s a very tricky situation whichever way you want to look at it and when you analyse the situation and you take somebody like John and you take somebody like myself, we both have families that were both beneficiaries and dispossessed, so then where do we go which is why I agreed to this conversation. So it takes John and I realistically looking at the situation and being fair as we look at the situation. This house belongs to both of us, we can keep fighting about this house but at some point we need to stop and say John, it’s got four bedrooms, you get two bedrooms, I get two, if we have to share the living room we share the living room but at some point an honest, genuine, sincere approach to the land reform is in place.
VG: But Dr Chihombori, this is where I go back to my earlier question that is this though how things should be done in Zimbabwe? We know that there were a lot of historical imbalances and one could ask you how would you like it if the native Americans decided that they wanted to take your business and then just go and take it because this is precisely what is happening even with the way you narrated how you got the offer letter and how you were given this farm. Is this the way to do it because you also don’t know what happens on the Cremer farm in terms of the kind of production that happens on that farm and this has been the case with many of the farms. How do you respond to this?
AC: Well I go back to the Lancaster Agreement. The Lancaster Agreement clearly stated the way the land issue was going to be handled. At some point we fell off the tracks in terms of following the Lancaster Agreement. If the Lancaster Agreement was followed it was a document that was supposed to make sure this process was carried on legally and professionally and equitably…
VG: But you as an individual and as a professional do you think how you acquired the offer letter to take another commercial farm that is already productive, do you think that is the way to do it?
AC: No to be honest with you like I said I did not expect an allocation of a farm that was functioning…
VG: But that’s how it’s been like.
AC: Contrary to what I’ve heard and I’ve got a few names of people who were actually given farms that were vacant. The original allocation for me was vacant, like I said I had hoped that I would get a smaller portion of the same farm, it was vacant. There are many people who have been allocated farms that were vacant, this young lady I’m talking about, her farm was vacant.
VG: Let me come to John. John can you respond to some of the issues raised by Dr Chihombori and if I can just point out a few, she talked about farmers, commercial farmers who failed to actually put in their own application for allocation and also the treatment of farm workers. Can you talk to us about some of these issues?
JW: Yes indeed Violet. Can we deal firstly about this particular farm that has been allocated to her. One’s got to look at it against a background of thousands of farms are lying vacant today not having been subscribed to or taken up or if they were taken up they’ve then been abandoned whether it be by A1 settlers or A2 farmers, new farmers, in that they didn’t have title, they didn’t have the skills to make a success of it. Now surely the government should focus on reallocation of those farms rather than interfering with a farm that is productive and has already been downsized. Certainly that’s the situation with the Cremer property, it was substantially downsized from 900 hectares down to 60 hectares and remains a very intensive, highly lucrative property, employing over 300 people.
The process itself with regard to the vetting of beneficiaries for the programme has been substantially flawed in that according to the Land Acquisition Act a board should be set up to vet applicants for farms whether A1 or A2 to assess whether they were suitable and had the requisite skills to farm and not just as Dr Chihombori mentions here that she had the financial wherewithal. It’s interesting also to note that her sister was an applicant and was turned down more than likely because she didn’t have the financial wherewithal to do it but certainly the process of vetting has not taken place at all. It’s not being done by the board, it’s being done by a minister who in the law should have no power to issue these offer letters.
The offer letters themselves, we’ve had various legal opinions over the years because of this are substantially flawed. The fact that there’s multiple offer letters for a single property, there are other properties that have never had an offer letter issued on them and should have done highlights the fact it’s all so flawed.
With regard to the farm worker plight on farms, all the more reason for them to reallocate farms that have already been left or abandoned. We have the issue of landless peasants not being given these farms, we’ve had the political hierarchy and businessmen who have been allocated the farms, it certainly hasn’t gone to the landless peasants and in many cases where it has gone to A1 settlers, the landless peasants, they’ve been displaced from those farms by chefs. So there’s a further injustice in the whole process and all the time the farm workers are the ones who take the brunt of this.
Statistics show only 25% of the farm workers are still in residence on farms, many of them refusing to work for the new farmers because it is tantamount to slave labour. We’re talking about a differential today where existing commercial farmers are using US$30 a month as a minimum wage and many of them paying more than that if you take into account rations, that they are given but new farmers are paying two to three, four dollars either, a lot of them are political chefs and very wealthy men who are arguing that they can’t afford to pay more than two or three US dollars a month. Some we have of record, some farm workers who were working to try and hold onto their homes and having to work for no cash realisation a month, they were driven into a cashless society and I’ll deal with the implications of that in a moment, they were given a couple of slices of bread and a cup of tea each day and if they worked the whole month they were given a bucket, roughly 20 kgs of maize.
The implications of becoming cashless are very alarming in that they can’t benefit from subsidized education if you don’t have any cash for paying towards putting your kids into school. Likewise on the health service side you cannot take advantage of medical help through clinics, what little was left, if you couldn’t pay something towards that so as a cashless society of farm workers and we’re looking at a large number of them, we’re looking at 1.5 million people with their dependents having been displaced off farms, the results of this are very alarming and when one looks at how it was done, the illegal eviction of farm workers and it is on going as a current issue at the moment, farm workers are being evicted off farms it’s tantamount to gross human rights violations, the right to shelter and a home is a basic human right, the right to work is a basic human right as well so we’re very alarmed about this being ongoing even in spite of high court orders that have been issued for those farm workers to stay in situ.
VG: The discussion with Dr Chihombori and John Worsley Worswick concludes next week where we ask if there are any possible ways that the farming community brought the land invasions upon themselves.