MASVINGO – Bubbling with confidence following his recent promotion as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Walter Mzembi who is believed to be a blue-eyed boy of the First Family has declared his intention to take over Banquest, the biggest chicken farm in Masvingo when he returns from a Government trip outside the country next week.
Mzembi told The Mirror in an exclusive interview after addressing people gathered to welcome the new Minister of State for Masvingo, Dr Paul Chimedza at the Civic Centre on Monday that he has an offer letter for the farm and was going to take over the land and leave a small portion for the owner, Helen Mitchell.
He said this will happen as soon as he touches down from his trip next week.
His bid for the same farm in 2015 was thwarted by the then Minister of State for Masvingo, Shuvai Ben Mahofa following a public outcry over the economic repercussions of the move. The development will see over 200 workers losing jobs and the biggest egg and chicken farm in the southern part of the country close.
Banquest Farm which is the only meaningful industry left in Masvingo produces 100 000 day-old chicks and 50 000 eggs a week.
The whole area around Masvingo and Lake Mutirikwi used to employ thousands of workers in hotels and conservancies but is now a pale shadow of itself with derelict hotels and farms and virtually no workforce.
Thousands of workers who lost jobs in the chaotic land reform programme are now economic refugees in South Africa.
There are likely to be no hurdles for Mzembi’s new bid for takeover now as Dr Chimedza who is responsible for land allocation is a member of the same Zanu PF G40 faction as Mzembi.
Infact Mzembi who has no track record in Zanu PF except his closeness to First Lady Grace Mugabe was touted at the welcome party as the now most senior party member in Masvingo. This means everyone including army generals like General Engelbert Rugeje and Retired Major General Gibson Mashingaidze will get instructions from him.
Mzembi who ran a failed chicken project at another farm he owns 20km across the lake from his new targeted farm bragged that he will only leave the infrastructure at Banquest farm for Mitchell because, he (Mzembi) was going to start a one million Euro chicken project there.
Mzembi is not the first Zanu PF politician to have such grand chicken ambition as Gideon Gono, the former Reserve Bank Governor also did the same a few years ago and built huge infrastructure at his rural Buhera home which is now collecting mothballs.
“I have an offer letter which I got in 2015 and I am going to use that to take over the farm next week when I come back from a trip outside the country. I will not take her infrastructure because I intend to build my own, but definitely next week I am going for the farm,” said a boisterous Mzembi on the sidelines of welcome celebrations.
This is not the first time that Mzembi has been involved in a takeover bid of a productive entity. In 2013 he and a former Zanu PF MP, Irvine Dzingirai had to be taken to court after they declared that they had taken over Renco Mine.
Their bid was thrown out by the High Court.
Asked why he was bidding for Banquest Farm when he has another farm just 20km away from the new farm, Mzembi said people should not worry about the farm at Stop Over because it was a private property. He said he could not remember when he last went to that farm because he has since given it to his son. He said he didn’t even know the agricultural activities that were taking place on that farm.
In 2015, he told The Mirror that he wanted to take over Banquest Farm because his forefathers once stayed in the area. He said this was of ancestral value. Newly appointed Chief Musara who says he is a cousin to Mzembi also told The Mirror in 2015 that he managed to get the area around the lake under his new chieftainship because of the influence of Mzembi.
Mzembi and his wife Barbra Mercedes were taken to court in 2012 by the People’s Own Savings Bank (POSB) after they failed to pay a debt of $129 000.
Political analyst Dr Fidelis Duri said this is one of the tragedies of the land reform exercise which does not consider the plight of farm workers and capacity of beneficiaries of land.
“If a company closes workers have a recourse through certain laws that protect them, but farm workers are just thrown out without any compensation as long as the adventurism of the politicians are fulfilled. Most politicians do not have the capacity to run the farms and keep industries busy, but they continue to parcel out land with reckless abandon,” said Dr Duri.
“Let me put the record straight. I am not invading the farm, neither am I trying to push the Mitchells out. I was just allocated the farm. I am going to have a similar chicken project on the farm and I am going to invest over 1 million Euros.
“The other farm you are referring to is my personal farm and I have title deeds for that farm. I only abandoned that poultry project after some rogue elements strangled over 30 000 birds on the farm,” Mzembi was quoted saying in 2015.
Mzembi also used to run a supermarket in Masvingo’s CBD called BW which was run down until workers failed to get salaries. It is now run by a new investor called Simrac. – Masvingo Mirrow