By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
9 June 2014
A dispossessed Zimbabwean commercial farmer has demanded an apology from Deputy Information Minister Supa Mandiwanzira’s newspaper, which published a defamatory and ‘slanderous’ article about the now destitute farmer last month.
The article, which was published by The Patriot newspaper on 22nd May, attacked former Nyazura commercial farmer Luke Tembani, for daring to buy his property in the 1980s, rather than seizing it, as advocated by ZANU PF. Calling him “simple-minded”, the article accuses Tembani of ‘betraying’ the liberation struggle by making the decision to purchase rather than seize his property.
“It is clear that he never understood or respected the logic of the liberation struggle; otherwise he would not have bought land he could have gotten for free because it was a liberated birthright,” the article states.
Tembani has now demand an apology from The Patriot, not only because of the slander the article contains, but also the misinformation. In a letter to the editor, Tembani said: “I do not understand how your publication can claim that I did not respect the liberation struggle.”
“I demand that you retract your claim that Luke Tembani is against proper land reform because I was one of the leading black farmers who showed how it could be done. I also demand that you write the truth about my situation, instead of writing lies about me,” Tembani said.
Tembani bought his farm in 1983 using a loan from what would become the Agricultural Bank of Zimbabwe (Agribank). He spent years turning it into a viable commercial property, intent on proving how real land ‘reform’ could be achieved in post-colonial Zimbabwe. He also wanted to do as much good for his local community as possible, and approached the government about building a school and a clinic. After being turned down, he had to find other means to finance his attempts to improve the lives of his community.
In 1986 he built a school using his own money and in 1987 the school opened, was registered with the Ministry of Education, and enrolled 321 pupils from the farming community. Tembani provided free education for the pupils, after finding that the majority of parents could not afford the fees. This free education continued until 2000.
Tembani also built a church and a clinic, but in the 1990s he ran into financial difficulties, mainly because of a serious drought in 1994 that affected his agricultural output and ultimate profitability. In 1996, he entered into an agreement with Agribank to sell part of his farm to service his debts. But in 2000, the entire property was sold to a third party at a fraction of the value estimated by an independent valuator.
Tembani took his case to the High Court of Zimbabwe, which eventually ruled in his favour. Agribank however appealed to the Supreme Court, the majority of whose members were recipients of the land grab campaign. In November 2007 the sale was upheld.
With no recourse to justice in Zimbabwe, Tembani took his case to the now defunct SADC Tribunal in Namibia in 2009. He won the case and the Zimbabwe government was told to take all the necessary measures not to evict him from the property and to stop interfering with his use and occupation of the farm.
But the ruling was ignored and in October 2009, Tembani and his family were evicted from the farmhouse where they’d been living and struggling to survive. They were not allowed to remove any of their farm equipment, are now virtually destitute.
Former Chegutu farmer Ben Freeth, who partnered with Tembani in a landmark legal battle to have the Tribunal full restored, said Monday that The Patriot was publishing “hate speech.”
“These are lies and quite clearly hate speech. But it’s something we’ve come to expect. It’s very frustrating that hate speech can go out in to the nation and nobody can tackle it,” Freeth told SW Radio Africa.
He added: “But ZANU PF has rather shot itself in the foot. They demonise Luke Tembani for buying his own land in the 1980s, but what they don’t say is that the vast majority of senior black politicians bought their own land as well. Mugabe, Gideon Gono, Perence Shiri, all sorts of people in the cabinet and military forces have bought their own land.”
Freeth continued: “Luke led the way in showing the world that land reform could be done in a proper, well considered, non violent way. So (the article) is sad and disturbing.”