Grace Mugabe last week called on the police to evict hordes of informal gold miners from Smithfield, a citrus farm she seized several years ago.
Harare - A long-running dispute between small-scale miners and former first lady Grace Mugabe erupted last week when scores of them invaded a citrus farm she seized several years ago.

Grace Mugabe, previously enormously powerful until her husband Robert resigned under pressure from the military last November, called on the police to evict hordes of informal gold miners from Smithfield, a farm in the Mazowe district, about 40km east of Harare. The former first family occupy several farms in this district, several of which were seized from a largely black-owned public company about six years ago.

Among the farms was Smithfield, which has a large orchard of mature lemon trees.

In a statement to the police, Mugabe said: “On March 29 at around 11.30am I was touring my farm, Smithfield I was shocked to find a group of approximately 400 men illegally panning for gold. I then asked them to stop their activities since I am the owner of the farm and I am the holder of a special grant for the whole area the crowd started to shout obscenities at me and continued with their unlawful activities” and “destroyed my irrigation infrastructure and there is massive land degradation”.

In an interview with Zimbabwe newspaper The Daily News, Mugabe said the invasion was an indication that she was being politically persecuted by the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. “Does it mean that if Mnangagwa is removed from power tomorrow he will be dispossessed of his investments?”

But this ironic saga between the Mugabes - who have arguably seized more top-quality farms than any other family since land invasions began in 2000 - and the informal miners is not a new development. It predates the soft coup which ended Robert Mugabe’s 37 years in power.

It began in 2013 when a few artisanal miners first invaded Smithfield farm and began digging for gold as thousands of others do, especially in the Mazowe district.

The Smithfield mining saga erupted in the Harare High Court in January, when Robert Mugabe’s family business, Gushungo Holdings (Pvt) Ltd, was ordered to leave the farm to make way for three small-scale miners, who had been digging there - on and off - for five years.

The Mugabe family sought an urgent application, arguing that the high court’s provisional order for the Mugabes to leave Smithfield was irregular and needed to be set aside.

Gushungo Holdings had said in its papers to the court that the informal miners’ activities “made it difficult for the applicant to conduct its farming activities and would suffer irreparable harm”. The Harare High Court said the matter was not urgent and would be heard at a later date.

Police stopped providing guards for the Mugabe family’s property empire in both urban and rural areas - apart from their main Harare mansion - shortly after Mnangagwa was sworn into office.

Smithfield farm was previously part of a collection of properties owned by Interfresh Ltd, which delisted from the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange in 2012 as it was unable to operate at strength after most of its citrus farms were taken over. It later emerged that several of the farms it owned were part of the Mugabes’ farming empire in the Mazowe district.

Last year Grace Mugabe leased Smithfield farm to a white businessman. It was in Mazowe that Grace Mugabe made her first land invasion in 2002, when she took over a large farm, Iron Mask Estate, from an elderly white couple. This farm became her headquarters on which she has built two huge schools, which charge fees of about R40000 a term, and an orphanage.

Shortly after seizing Iron Mask Estate, she took over Zimbabwe’s top dairy farm nearby, which was partially paid for by the government.

It was also in the Mazowe district that hundreds of people were kicked out of their homes by police from 2015 on land Grace Mugabe took from another white farmer. Some of those evicted were represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights at the Harare High Court in March, and were awarded more then R300000 in compensation for the destruction of their homes and possessions.

Robert Mugabe told a group of local and foreign journalists last month he had only one farm, which he bought.

He did buy a farm in 2000 but then took over a further five adjoining farms from which whites had been previously evicted. 

Independent Foreign Service