By Sam Noko
Minister of State for Matabeleland North Province Richard Moyo is reportedly assisting Chief Mabhikwa of Lupane to take over the running and control of Gwaai Halfway Hotel and Service Station located at Gwaai farm in Hwange, the latest development in the long-running battle to control the business entities.
Gwaai Farm, Halfway Hotel and Service Station were owned by Rob Sterling, who was evicted during the land reform programme.
After Sterling’s eviction, his former employees continued running the hotel until the government brought in Tetra Heights (Pvt) Limited.
The former farm workers are engaged in a tussle to control the properties with businessman Thomas Willy Ndlovu who claims to have an offer letter giving him right of ownership of the farm, the hotel and service station.
Ndlovu is currently running the service station.
Ndlovu said he approached the late Minister of Lands Perrence Shiri before he passed on complaining to him that despite having an offer letter to the farm, businessman Langton Masunda and the former farm workers were refusing to vacate the properties.
However, Masunda told CITE that Ndlovu had no claim to the property.
“The issue of the hotel and service station is still before the courts and in the court papers I do not even feature. I do not know why he (Ndlovu) wants to include my name in this. He just wants to tarnish my name. The dispute should be between the former farm workers and the ministry of lands. Ndlovu is even not there in it because he has no papers,” Masunda said.
“The ministry tried to evict the former farm workers, but that failed because they were already given a reprieve by the courts so by right the former farm workers are currently the legal owners of the Hotel and service station and not Ndlovu.”
He said Ndlovu was told to vacate the property by the government’s land commission but he has remained put.
“He has even painted the service station and is operating it without papers. He was clandestinely given permission by the Environmental Management Agency,” Masunda claimed.
“The truth is that Ndlovu is illegally occupying the service station and is corruptly abusing the government officials for his personal gain. EMA should account as to how they gave him the right to operate the service station.”
Masunda said the matter has since been taken to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) by the lawyers representing the former farm workers.
Tetra Heights manager Davison Mukonoweshuro said when the farm was listed for acquisition, Ndlovu clandestinely obtained papers giving him control over the farm and the other properties.
“He produced a fake lease to the property which was later cancelled by the lands ministry. The lands ministry made a resolution that former workers should remain in the farm and run the hotel and service station. There was a tender process conducted and there was a dubious process in the tender prompting us to take the matter to court where an order was made that we should be given a lease but to date we have not been given, we wonder why,” Mukonoweshuro said.
“Ndlovu continued to use the service station that is supposed to be operated by us to date after taking it by force. He has no legal standing to remain at the property because he is using fake papers.”
Mukonoweshuro said he has since taken the matter to the ZACC after noticing that Ndlovu might be working with some powerful politicians to muscle the former farms workers out of the property.
“ZACC have since informed us that they have started investigations on the matter and I will be making a follow up with them to find out progress made so far and to get our reference number,” Mukonoweshuro said.
“Ndlovu seems to be well linked with top politicians to enable him to grab our property. The last verdict of the land commission we were given is that the properties should remain with us until the government finds someone to take over, for now it’s us the former workers.”
Ndlovu admitted operating the service station but said the hotel was being occupied by Masunda whom he said was refusing to leave despite him (Ndlovu) having all the papers to the farm and properties.
“I have an offer letter to the farm and by right both the hotel and the service station are supposed to be operated by me. I am currently operating the service station and I am unable to operate the Hotel since Masunda still occupies it and is refusing to leave,” Ndlovu said.
“When Masunda started operating the hotel he had signed a lease agreement and when it expired he joined former farm workers whom he uses as a front, and at some point Minister Moyo ordered him to leave, but Covid-19 lockdown disturbed the process of his eviction, so he is still there.”
Ndlovu said he suspects Masunda has the backing of powerful politicians who are backing his continued occupation of the property.
“At some point they wanted to remove me and take everything from me so I had to approach then Agriculture and Resettlement minister late Shiri who gave me authority to remain in the farm. The minister said there was no way the acquired farm could be taken from an indigenous person and be given to another,” Ndlovu said.
“I have since reported the matter to the ZACC and you can get in contact with them and they will tell you about the case.”
However, revelations are that Minister Moyo is now assisting Chief Mabhikwa to take over the operation of the hotel and service station.
“It’s not true that I am allowing Ndlovu to occupy the hotel and service station. If you were talking about Chief Mabhikwa I would understand, because I have his papers which I am processing. He is the one who will be legally operating there, not Ndlovu. Whoever told you that is lying,” Minister Moyo said.
Chief Mabhikwa said he was not in a position to comment on the issue as the matter was being dealt with by the government.
“At this moment it would sound awkward for me to comment on that matter, I think it would be better if you talk to the government or the former workers they would be in a position to comment on that,” he said.
ZACC spokesperson Commissioner John Makamure said he was not aware of the issue.
“I am not aware of the reports. Can they provide reference numbers for follow up,” Comm Makamure said.
EMA Matabeleland North provincial manager Chipo Mpofu-Zuze said the Lands ministry was better placed to speak on who has the right to operate the Service Station.
She however admitted that they had granted a permit to Ndlovu to sell fuel.
“If someone is to sell fuel since it is a hazardous substance, he has to apply for a permit and Ndlovu has been applying over the years. He was working with the former owner and in approving his papers we relied on the fact that he was not a new applicant, but was renewing his permits. So whenever one is a new applicant that is when we ask for more papers,” Mpofu Zuze said.
“Those who are concerned, if they have documents that show that he is not supposed to be permitted to operate, we advise them to bring that to us, but as of now we have nothing against him (Ndlovu).”
Gwaai farm, Halfway Hotel and Service station have been in the centre of a dispute between former farmworkers, government and various business operators since 2018.