In Chegutu the dire situation continues at Sue and Thomas and Beattie's Umvovo Farm. Burning tires are constantly being lit around the house in the past few days to try to intimidate or choke the Beattie's out. The tires were being burnt again as I spoke to Sue yesterday over the phone, her house was full of smoke and she was choking on the acrid smoke as we spoke. Her daughter, Sarah-Jane Keevil, was trying to get to her mother in the house, but the thugs refused to let her through the gate. They threatened to touch her `inappropriately' if she dared come there again. Sarah-Jane was thrown out of her own house on Dodhill Farm by Lands Officer Clever Kunonga's brother-in-law in May this year. As we spoke the tires were burning so close to the Beattie's house, a thatched one, that the fear in Sues voice was palpable. I vividly relived my own situation a few short months ago as the same thing had happened to us - and eventually our house was burnt down taking everything we owned.
Last night at the Beattie's from midnight, the drums were beating constantly outside the house. The invaders lit a fire on the porch under the thatch, flames rearing dangerously close to the tinder dry grass.
Sleep was out of the question as they banged on the windows, chanted and sang. The SMS from Sue at 5.30 this morning read "drums and raucous singing outside bedroom windows from midnight. Large fires-one on porch nearly lit the thatchthis is too scary."
Just after 5.30 am this morning, Thomas tried to leave the house to attend to the work that had to be done but found he was barricaded into his own house. His eldest son Douglas contacted him on the phone and heard his father's voice - "They are breaking in.", then banging noises and his father voice asking the invaders, "what's the plan now?" The phone abruptly went dead. The invaders had broken the lock and entered the verandah area of the house. At the police station we went through the torturous process of filing an official report [Report Received Book number 0699176] but we know that there will be no arrests. There never are. This kind of harassment is allowed to continue until the owners are either burnt out or the leaders of the thugs run out of money to pay them - or of course the owners cave in and leave their home and livelihood as so many thousands have done before with no repercussions to their tormentors.
There is only so much, mentally and physically, a person can take. In the last few months Thomas and Sue and their workers have been through a seemingly endless nightmare. In amongst the political upheaval Thomas and Sue tragically lost their second son Hamish. They have never had time to mourn or grieve his loss as parents should. The day they left the farm to arrange and attend their son's cremation the mob took the opportunity to invade the yard and tried to break into the house. The police were notified but no decisive action taken and certainly no arrests made. With this personal tragedy they have had to bear being assaulted, robbed, chased with sjamboks and sticks, locked in their house, locked out of their house, threatened, stopped from farming, deprived of sleep. It is a litany of torture- nothing that most farmers and farm workers haven't been through; but that doesn't make it any easier.
One does wonder what is in it for the Chegutu police except an indictment to an International court at the end of the day. Of course, in the short term they are being paid by the invaders. When invaders are allowed to steal whole crops and other possessions at will, there is more than enough with which to pay police to turn a blind eye and allow it all to continue. It is clear however that the instructions are also coming from above. This renders the law immaterial in the face of opposing instructions. I asked one policeman recently whether he took his direction from the law or from his superiors, he immediately replied, without batting an eyelid, that his orders were from his superiors. I told him about the 1.4 million railway workers in NAZI Germany that had been involved in transporting 6 million Jews to the extermination camps because they were simply `following orders'. I asked him whether he cared about the future of his children. A country without the rule of law will self destruct leaving all its children education-less and lost.
Where are these orders coming from? The Chegutu lands officer, Clever Kunonga, is a pivotal figure in the organization of illegal invasions in Chegutu. He was prominent again this week organizing invaders when the new invasion started on the Beattie's and at Umfuli Banks farm over the last few days. He spent almost the entire day at Selous police station yesterday - one wonders why? Persuading or intimidating Selous police to make the law take a back seat there as well? He hasn't let himself go unrewarded; he has allocated himself a farm and recently, flouting a High Court order against him, has chased Kevin du Boil and his workers out of their houses to take over the home for himself. But who Clever Kunonga is acting for is not immediately apparent. The Senator for the Chegutu district, Edna Madzongwe, led the violent takeover of Stockdale farm earlier this year just before the 6000 ton orange crop was due to be reaped. It is evident from information that has been given to us that she has put an end to the prosecution of Gilbert Moyo and his gang. This gang is up for various serious charges including our own abduction and kidnapping; the violent beatings Moyo administered to other farmers leaving permanent physical and mental damage; looting of numerous homesteads; shooting at my brother-in-law and peppering his vehicle with 14 bullet holes when he was trying to follow us when we were being kidnapped - the list could go on. He obviously has some powerful political backing: his name is not even up on the wanted list in the Chegutu police station.
The Chegutu police would not be able to act with such impunity over so many months if it weren't for someone powerful like Edna Madzongwe [and her backing authority]. It is clear though that there are key people at the station. They are from the infamous PISI - the plain clothes men to which the uniformed branch are obliged to defer - Assistant Inspector Bepura being their leader. No one messes with them and they are never investigated. The rest of the police have to follow their orders. The higher ranks always have to have them in the office when it is a "political issue" - the break in to a farmer's home or the stealing of his crops. The lower ranks are even afraid to talk to us now. They know that if they are seen talking to white people they might get disciplined, or they might simply disappear like Constable Tomano did some months ago after privately collecting statements of rape and beatings and severe violence, including killings, from the rural areas that the Chegutu police had allowed to take place last year.
The day before yesterday I phoned the joint Minister of Home Affairs who is supposed to be in charge of the police, Giles Matsekwa, and informed him of the invasions in Chegutu and what was going on. He said to me "I am in a crucial meeting." I remonstrated with him calmly and tried to explain that what was happening was crucial to the lives of thousands of people not just the affected farmers. He eventually put the phone down on me. He knew he could do nothing. In the meantime thousands of people are losing their homes and livelihoods in our Chegutu district. Just like the railway workers in NAZI Germany who kept the death trains running, the lawless destruction of peoples' lives is being allowed to continue unhindered month in and month out in Zimbabwe.
Through this process, power is being consolidated and with the impotency of the democratic side of government, it unfortunately seems likely to simply continue to its logical and tragic end unless something is done very soon.
Ben Freeth. - Chegutu