IN a dramatic turn of events, Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement minister Perrance Shiri has poured cold water on exiled former minister Jonathan Moyo’s court application against the seizure of his Mazowe farm by state security agents, denting hopes for an out-of-court settlement by the parties.
By Tinashe Kairiza
Spanning 623 hectares, Elephant Trust Farm, belonging to Moyo, an ex-minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, was seized by state agents in 2019, two years after the military coup that toppled president Robert Mugabe.
At the height of Zanu PF succession battles pitting rival factions, Moyo, a fierce critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, was among party stalwarts who coalesced around Mugabe before the military coup. Moyo had his house raided and peppered with bullets by the military during the November 2017 coup.
Legal documents seen by the Zimbabwe Independent show that Shiri, who is cited by Moyo as the defendant in High Court case number HC201/20 lodged in January, averred that the self-exiled former minister failed to identify the “correct respondent.”
Shiri’s latest court disclosures come at a time the feuding parties had sought to thrash an out-of-court settlement over the disputed farm which Moyo bought in 2001 for ZW$6 billion, translating to US$105 401,84.
Moyo, according to court documents seen by this newspaper, bought the farm through a loan facility extended to him by the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ).
In his opposing affidavit, Shiri contends: “I am the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement and the respondent in this matter, in such capacity I depose to this affidavit.
“The applicants have failed to observe a simple and basic procedural aspect in bringing their issue to court in terms of section 3 of the State Liabilities Act (Chapter8:14.This failure to cite the right respondent in the form of the minister means that there is no respondent in the application.”
Shiri’s opposing affidavit, lodged in the High Court, contends that Moyo’s application should be dismissed.
“In light of this grave irregularity, it means there is no actual respondent in this case. Therefore, I pray for a dismissal of the application for failure to cite proper respondent,” Shiri said.
Prior to Shiri’s affidavit, Moyo’s lawyers Atherstone and Cook Legal Practitioners had written to the Agriculture minister, alerting him of the intrusion by state security agents and “various suspicious agents” into Elephant Trust Farm.
On May 28,2019, Atherstone and Cook wrote to Shiri: “We write at the instruction of our client Professor Jonathan Moyo who instructs us as follows: He is the owner of the remainder of Patterson Farm, measuring 622,9125 hectares, otherwise known as the Elephant Trust Farm situated in the district of Mazowe.
“For instance, on Friday 3 May 2019 an expansive team comprising government, army, police and Central Intelligence Organisation officers representing the Mashonaland Central province’s Joint Operations Command visited the farm for the apparent purpose of commencing a process of dispossessing Professor Jonathan Moyo of Elephant Trust Farm.”
In his opposing affidavit, seen by this newspaper this week, Shiri also argued that Moyo’s claims that he was being politically targeted were “misplaced”.
“The rest of the arguments the 1stapplicant raised about political persecution are misplaced. This is a normal administrative process which was undertaken in terms of the law,” Shiri argued.
“There was clear communication of the intentions to downsize the farm from as far back as May 22, 2019 with correspondences being exchanged between the parties. Clearly everything was being done in the open with no ambush tactics deployed.”
Shiri further argued that Moyo’s farm was repossessed “for purposes of replanning in particular downsizing which means the applicant will be given a new offer letter for a smaller portion of the land that they can fully utilise as opposed to the large piece they are failing to use.”
This week, lawyer Chris Mhike of Atherstone and Cook told the Independent that efforts to hammer out an out-of-court settlement over the farm wrangle were “inconclusive.”
“It is still unclear whether or not the state might proceed in terms of a Deed of Settlement. Out-of-court discussions between the parties have, thus far, been inconclusive,” he said.
Source close to the farm feud hinted that Moyo’s lawyers would also argue that the former minister was prejudiced of potential revenue as a result of spirited efforts by state security agents to grab his farm.
“Quantifying the size of business and revenue that Moyo lost as a result of the disturbances will take time.
“But that is certainly what his legal team would be working on, to use it as ammunition in court,” a source privy to the legal battle told this newspaper on condition of anonymity.
As reported by the Independent on June 30, spirited manoeuvres by state security agents to illegally seize Elephant Trust farm owned by former minister Moyo have frustrated a deal with an investor, which could have potentially transformed the property into a viable enterprise.
At that time, confidential documents seen by the Independent reveal that Moyo’s farm manager had, in principle, agreed to a joint venture partnership with farmer Alan York in 2018, which could have turned the property into a viable business entity.
But the joint venture plan went off the rails when state security agents angled to grab the farm.