It was bound to happen. Hundreds of Illegal artisanal miners have invaded an expansive farm owned by former Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe in search of gold.
The invasion is the first test on the future of the expansive property in Mazowe district where many Zimbabweans believe the Mugabe family exploited its power to improperly take control of the land – plus the dam they used to get water from.
The farm also houses an orphanage run by Mrs Mugabe – whose attempt to take over power after Mugabe’s exit saw both removed from State House.
Manzou Farm is idyllic and stretches for 20km in one direction. On this farm is the Mazowe Citrus Estate, Mapfeni Farm, and the state-of-the-art Alpha and Omega Dairy Farm which was also grabbed from previous Arab owners.
The former First Lady also took over part of the Mazoe Citrus Estate, then owned by Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed agro producer Interfresh, to expand her orphanage located close to the estate.
Grace further evicted villagers from this farm when she realised it had gold and she got a permit to mine it herself. But locals are not letting it go.
To show ownership, the former First Lady had built a fledgling empire here, which included an opulent double-storey mansion on Mapfeni farm just across the road from the orphanage and the Amai Mugabe Junior School.
In 2015, the Mugabe government had denied that Grace owned the property. The then Minister of State for Mashonaland Central Provincial Affairs Martin Dinha said Manzou Farm was “a national heritage site (reserved) for a game park.”
But the locals, who celebrated Mugabe’s fall by invading this farm, said that the national park was a disguise for grace to mine the gold.
Grace had at first confronted the miners but they told her off. “They had told her she was no longer in power and could do nothing to them,” the newspaper reported.
The citrus plantation, known as Smithsfield, is located north of Harare.
According to media reports, the miners destroyed drip irrigation equipment and threatened farm workers who dared to stand in their way.
Journalists found lorries carrying truckloads of ore “leaving a scarred landscape.”
At first Grace had tried to confront the miners: “Can you please leave this place it is private property”.
And she was told: “You are no longer in power and you cannot do anything to us.”
Unable to force them out, and only left with skeletal security, Grace reported the matter to Mazowe Police Station. In her report, she says she found 400 men panning for gold at the Lemon pool section of her farm.
“I then asked them to stop their activities since I am the owner of the farm and I am the holder of the special grant for the whole area, However, the crowd that was being led by one known as Nyasvingo started to shout obscenities at me and continued with their illegal activities.”
The farm is one of the many owned by Mugabe family after they built a huge personal farming empire comprising at least five white-owned farms from which the owners were forced out during his regime’s evictions of about 4,000 commercial farmers.
Mrs Mugabe’s properties total about 12,000 acres, is this which forms part of Gushungo Dairy Estate, formerly known as Foyle Farm which is in Mazowe, about 30 km north of the capital Harare. Its milk products trade as Alpha Omega Dairy.
Mrs Mugabe has built a new residence on the farm, remodelled the original farmhouse and constructed an office block, workers said. The dairy produces 6,500 litres of milk a day, The Herald has said, which is only about 35 per cent of its output under the previous owner, who produced 6.5 million litres a year, more than any other dairy in Zimbabwe.
Her biggest customer, according to her staff and other industry insiders, is Nestlé Zimbabwe, the local subsidiary of the Swiss company. The plant, in an industrial area in Msasa on the outskirts of the capital, manufactures powdered milk and cereals for the local market and for export to East African countries.
Mrs Mugabe uses an unmarked £100,000 tanker and trailer combination dedicated for her use to deliver milk three times a week to Nestlé’s plant on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Harare, according to workers at the plant.
Another conflict over Manzou farm, also known as Arnold farm, has become a flashpoint for national anger over perceptions that Grace Mugabe thought she was above the law in her efforts to evict residents and turn the area into a wildlife park. The villagers first moved into Manzou farm around 2000 as part of a wave of land seizures and evictions of farmers from Zimbabwe’s white minority, which relinquished power in 1980 after a guerrilla war by black nationalists.
Several years ago, Grace Mugabe said people on Manzou farm were panning for gold, and she accused a local lawmaker of trying to incite people to resist her claim to the land.
Before her arrival people survived on subsistence farming and fishing in the adjoining Mazowe Dam.
And then Grace announced the land was hers. The occupants of Manzou Farm were rounded up and herded on to trucks and dumped on a different farm a few kilometres down the road.
Last year, Grace also grabbed the iconic century old Mazowe Dam and the surrounding tracts of land escalating a bitter row with villagers who were now barred from using the dam to fetch water and fish.
Mugabe family has more than 10 farms and include the Mazowe Dam which is the 16th largest water reservoir in the country and has a capacity of 39.35 million cubic meters of water.