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Monday, August 24, 2009

Farm Situation

Seed Project Threatened as Farm is Seized


Saturday, 22 August 2009 19:17

A MASHONALAND East farmer who has been producing 520 tonnes of maize seed for Pannar Seeds annually is on the verge of losing his farm to a Zanu PF supporter as disturbances on commercial farms continue unabated.

Dennis Lapham has been told to leave part of his Devonia Farm - about 40km along the Harare-Murehwa road - including the farm house by Herbert Shumbamhini, who first invaded the property in March.

The saga has drawn in the Minister of Agriculture, Senator Herbert Murerwa, whom Shumbamhini claims signed his offer letter. When pressed by The Standard, Shumbamhini produced a photocopy. There was no way of immediately verifying its authenticity.

Lapham's lawyers say Murerwa has no authority to issue new offer letters.

The 900-hectare farm is used by Pannar, a South African company as a seed research centre.

Seed for crops such as maize, sorghum, soya, barley, wheat and sugar beans is tested at the farm. Lapham also grows barley for Delta Beverages.

Shumbamhini, who openly admitted his allegiance to Zanu PF, has already built a two-bedroomed house at the farm and is growing cabbages and maize.

Lapham said the "intruder" usually patrolled the farm brandishing a gun.
Shumbamhini on Thursday also switched off electricity to the Lapham's farm house in a bid to drive them off.

"He has threatened my workers not to come to work and he has taken a block of houses where some of my workers have been staying," Lapham said.

The two had a meeting in April where they reached an oral "agreement"
that Lapham would vacate his house by August 20.

However on Thursday, Lapham was advised by his lawyers Gollop & Blank not to leave the property since Shumbamhini did not have an eviction order.

A copy of the letter, which was copied to Murerwa by the lawyers
reads: "The Agriculture Land Settlement Act does not empower or authorise the minister to unilaterally issue an offer letter to a third party.

"The Act specifically empowers the agriculture land resettlement board to receive application from applicant requesting use of state land that has been competently acquired."

The lawyers also argue that neither Pannar's representatives nor Lapham himself had received any valid instruction to leave the farm.

But Shumbamhini has denied trying to force Lapham to leave the farm saying he only wanted part of the property including the farm house.

"I am just taking a piece of land which was given to me," he said. "It's unfortunate that his house falls under my land but what I just want is my land and he should leave. After all he has 560 hectares and I have 353 hectares."

He denied that he was using violence saying he is a member of the Johane Masowe apostolic sect.

"The problem with these white people is that when they are told to leave they will run to papers saying there is a farm invasion yet there is nothing like that. I am just taking what belongs to me," Shumbamhini claimed.

Pannar managing director Themba Nkatazo said the chaos at the farm would affect seed production in the country but his company's hands were tied.

"We were given that farm by the government and we have been working with Lapham for the past 10 years," he said. "We were just told that someone is going to take over part of the farm and there is nothing we can do about it. This will likely affect the production of seeds because we do not know whether the person who is going to take over is going to be co-operative or not."

Lapham says he has had no help from the police.

Murerwa was not immediately available for comment.

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