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Esidakeni farm wrangle exposes govt’s persecution of human rights defenders

Human rights defenders believe that attempts by the State to grab Esidakeni farm in Matabeleland North from its three directors -Siphosami Malunga, Charles Moyo and Zephaniah Dhlamini symbolise the political persecution of its perceived critics.

Malunga, Moyo and Dhlamini are directors of Kershelmar Farms (Private) Limited but since 2020 have been fighting attempts from the State to grab the farm.

They risk losing their farm after the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, and Rural Resettlement Anxious Masuku reportedly acquired it via a Notice of Acquisition General Notice 3042 of 2020 in the government gazette on December 18, 2020.

The ownership of Esidakeni farm has been hotly contested after the government issued parts of it to beneficiaries including Zanu-PF secretary for Administration Dr Obert Mpofu, through his company Mswelangubo Farm (Private) Limited which he owns with his wife, Sikhanyisiwe, who was allocated 154 hectares.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling ordering Dr Mpofu to vacate Esidakeni in July 2022, the trio still cannot access the farm, as they were arrested in August 2022 on allegations of unlawful occupation.

The trio are currently out on bail but the State seeks to oppose their High Court application where they argue Esidakeni is lawfully theirs.

Human rights defenders suspect gazetting Esidakeni farm is political persecution emanating from Malunga’s efforts, who as a human rights advocate, has been shining the spotlight on human rights violations by the government.

This persecution is not new, said the human rights defenders, who highlighted that the assault on civic space in Zimbabwe continues as activists, politicians, and journalists who criticise the government often face harassment, arrest and prosecution.

“Issues of democracy, sustainable development, respect for rights and fundamental freedoms are both mutually reinforcing and obviously interdependent but when we see what is happening today to Siphosami Malunga and his colleagues it basically symbolises greed, corruption, political persecution and impunity that we have seen plaguing Zimbabwe over the past 20 years or so,” said Tiseke Kasambala, Director of Africa Programmes under Freedom House in a Twitter Spaces discussion on Land, Property and Human Rights Violation in Zimbabwe held Tuesday.

Kasambala has 20 years of experience working in East and Southern Africa on human rights, democracy, and governance. 

She claimed the general corruption and lawlessness in Zimbabwe, the sense of being above the rule of law by key officials from Zanu PF and within the government is not just seen in the Esidakeni case but others.

“We have documented it in the case of the land reform process and in the case of the Marange diamonds situation where we saw looting, abuses of the highest order and lawlessness where people including government officials felt they could commit human rights abuse with impunity,” she said.

“It is in this sense that we see the political persecution of Malunga and his colleagues. One can argue Malunga is a high-profile individual, that this is not just necessarily about greed but could also be about political persecution of someone who is a human rights defender and has been a critic of the government of Zimbabwe.”

Kasambala also queried how one could receive justice when court decisions were ignored or there was lack of legal protections.

“The question for us is how does one get an effective remedy and redress and justice in a country such as Zimbabwe? Where to next and how can we support our colleague like Malunga to move beyond this, if any actual legal remedy actually fails at a national level?” she asked.

A local human rights defender, Thandekile Moyo, added that when individuals in power take law into their own hands, citizens should offer solidarity to victims.

“I believe solidarity is a real form of resistance because it chirps away at the regime’s power to silence us,” she said, claiming the regime in Zimbabwe “rules by intimidation, where everyone is so afraid to speak.”

“Everyone is always warning someone else to just tone down the criticism, so when you speak out in solidarity with victims of human rights violations, it’s really a form of resistance a lot of us should use and be conscious whenever we speak out about what the government is doing.”

Moyo said solidarity was a peaceful form of resistance that people could do from the ‘comfort of their homes.’

“Whenever you become aware that someone is a victim of human rights violations instead of feeling powerless that you can’t do anything, offer solidarity. If you are in the same town attend court cases, amplify any news you hear about the cases. If you see a newspaper article, share with friends, retweet, share on WhatsApp, send messages of solidarity directly to victims and write letters to victims that have been incarcerated,” she suggested.

“Offer solitary publicly or privately. Let’s speak out when these things happen, share with people not online that this is what the government is doing to this person so that everyone can rally behind victims of human rights atrocities.”  

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