HARARE – Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has described the forced eviction of hundreds of poor families from a farm in Mazowe by President Robert Mugabe’s rapacious wife Grace — who wants to expand her vast business interests in the area — as “disgraceful”.
Addressing the media at his party’s headquarters in Harare yesterday, the MDC leader also said it was time that Zimbabweans put the quarrelsome First Lady in her place after she hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons yet again this week.
The move to evict the estimated 300 families from Manzou Farm has been described by analysts as “extremely callous” as it had taken place despite the heavy rains that have been pounding the country, and that FROM P1
the subsistence farmers were in the midst of their farming season.
Commenting on the much-condemned evictions that were being carried out illegally and ironically by the country’s law enforcement agents, Tsvangirai said it was clear that Grace was insensitive to the plight of the poor and, to that extent, her “madness” needed to be stopped.
“It is a disgrace really. You cannot have that. Zanu PF has survived on chaos and impunity. This is a typical testimony of insensitivity, at this hour when rains are pouring and you start instituting those measures,” Tsvangirai observed ruefully.
So controversial have the evictions been that many Zimbabweans have over the past few days been questioning Grace’s sincerity to her philanthropic work and commitment to the disadvantaged — which she loves to brag about — particularly as the violent removals are also in blatant violation of the country’s laws.
The action is in total disregard of a High Court order obtained by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) last year to stop the evictions.
Police have not just been destroying the evicted families’ homes and heartlessly slashing their maize crops, they have also left traumatised women, frail old people and young children to their own devices in the open, in driving rain.
And with schools set to open next week, it is clear that many children will suffer the consequences and miss school. It is understood that Grace wants to turn the fertile farm into a lucrative animal sanctuary.
“Dai anga ari mwana wako asiri kuenda kuchikoro achirara panze (If it was your child who was not going to school and was sleeping in the open), how would you feel?
“How would you feel for those poor families you are evicting? And the irony of it is you are removing them to make way for animals instead of people,” Tsvangirai said.
The influential Grace — currently holidaying with her family in the Far East — has been in a bashful mood since she orchestrated the removal of former vice president Joice Mujuru and her perceived sympathisers from power last year.
Grace, a self-styled “philanthropist” and operator of an orphanage in Mazowe, has in the past indicated that she would like to add a university and a hospital to her sprawling business empire in the area — which already includes a multimillion dollar dairy farm operation.
“I think the time has come to call Grace to order because this is a run of madness,” Tsvangirai added yesterday.
Police first stormed the farm in March last year and razed the peasants’ homes, forcing them off the farm. But a court order obtained by ZLHR saw some of them later returning to their ruined homes.
This was after five of the families approached the High Court, which ruled that the villagers, most of whom had moved on the farm at the height of Zanu PF’s chaotic land reforms in 2000, had the right to stay at the property until government provided alternative land.
Numerous attempts by the families to engage the government to regularise their stay at the farm, which used to be a game park, were repeatedly rejected, with the First Lady now seeking its expansion.
Last year, Grace viciously attacked expelled former deputy minister of Justice, Fortune Chasi, after she accused him of trying to thwart her bid to acquire more farming land in the area.
Chasi is the local MP for Mazowe North, the area where Grace’s business hub is located.
While Grace — who now appears to wield undue influence on Mugabe — is being bootlicked, sometimes embarrassingly by many Zanu-PF bigwigs, she has struggled to find favour with ordinary Zimbabweans.
Many critics of the First Lady derisively refer to her as “Gucci Grace” or “First Shopper” or lately “Hurricane Grace”.
A significant number of Zanu PF bigwigs also allege that her dramatic entry into formal politics late last year was a first step in her ultimate ambition to allegedly grab the leadership of both the ruling party and the country.
After her “surprise” nomination as head of Zanu PF’s women’s league in August, Grace immediately fronted a ferocious party campaign against Mujuru, accusing the popular widow of Solomon Mujuru of untested allegations of corruption and plotting to topple Mugabe from power.