UNDER-siege Mazowe villagers on Monday reportedly slept in mountains as they engaged in running battles with members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, who had come to evict them for the umpteenth time from the disputed Arnold Farm.
According to the villagers, it all started when the police officers came and advised them not to erect new structures at the farm.
The villagers are contesting their eviction to reportedly pave way for the expansion of First Lady Grace Mugabe’s business empire.
Villagers said that after the stand-off with police, riot police officers came for reinforcement, forcing the villagers to seek refuge in nearby mountains, where they spent the night.
Some of the villagers who sustained injuries during the ensuing melee were reportedly admitted at a private hospital in Harare.
“Police came to the farm warning people not to construct new shelters since they claimed our days were now numbered at the farm,” one of the villagers, who identified himself as Munobvei Tichafa, said.
“We have a pending case before the courts and police have always denied that they are harassing us, so one of the villagers was filming them. It all started when they realised that they were being filmed.
“Police went on to assault the villager while ordering him to delete the pictures. We decided to fight back when police started indiscriminately assaulting other villagers. They were about eight and we overpowered them. They started throwing stones at us and we retaliated. They called the reinforcement, which came and attacked everyone. We were overpowered and we fled to nearby mountains, where we put up for the night.”
Others said they could not afford to live without shelter, with the onset of the rainy season.
Some said they had minor children, who have been constantly exposed to violence, hostile environment and weather conditions.
However, Mashonaland Central provincial affairs minister Martin Dinha said the villagers should leave the farm.
“I am not aware of the alleged incident, but we have repeatedly advised the illegal settlers at Manzou Game Reserve and Conservancy and all other illegal settlers elsewhere occupying land illegally to move. They are choosing to be used as pawns in a game of opposition politics, NGOs and as perpetual headline news by opposition papers,” he said.
“We gave them alternative land and they returned to Manzou Game Reserve and Conservancy, a designated parks area and a Nehanda National Monument reserved area. They should not be at Manzou at all and I am surprised you say they are there.
“My records show that we voluntarily resettled all of them long back in compliance with a High Court order. We are now tired of the Manzou circus and call on the squatters concerned to abide by the law and stop this untenable and unproductive feud with government.”
Zanu PF Mashonaland Central provincial chairperson Dickson Mafios said he was not aware of their plight.
But MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu described the attack as uncalled for.
“It is a great pity that Grace Mugabe is unlawfully evicting those poor people who know of no other home, but Arnold farm. It just shows the level of selfishness and heartlessness of Grace. Already, the First Family owns several farms in prime farming regions of the country,” he said.
Gutu said the country should reject the privatisation of the country by one family.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association chairperson Passmore Nyakureba said: “We implore the government to respect the Constitution and stop the fast-developing trend towards the creation of a police state.”