OPINION

British doctor involved in Zimbabwean farm grab - SADC Tribunal Watch

Ben Freeth says Dr Sylvester Nyatsuro has spent last month trying to drive a highly experienced commercial farmer, Phillip Rankin, off his land

British doctor involved in Zimbabwean farm grab

October 14, 2015

A British doctor and his wife have joined the relentless onslaught by ruling party officials on Zimbabwe’s few remaining white commercial farmers and are currently involved in the invasion of a tobacco farm north-east of Harare. 

For the past month, Dr Sylvester Nyatsuro (45) and his wife, Veronica, have been trying to drive a highly experienced commercial farmer, Phillip Rankin (57) and his wife, Anita, off Kingston Deverill farm in the Centenary district of Mashonaland Central province (see Telegraph report).

Rankin bought the farm in 1983, three years after independence, with the consent of the Mugabe government. Originally he produced high quality irrigated tobacco as well as the country’s staple food crop, maize (corn) and passion fruit. He also farmed cattle and pigs, but the farm has been severely depleted by continual seizures.

Nyatsuro, who was born in Zimbabwe but is believed to have emigrated around 2003, is now a British passport holder. He owns “The Willows” weight loss clinic in Nottingham, England.

During September, the Nyatsuros arrived at Rankin’s farm with ruling party thugs, police and government officials, and presented a letter which they said authorised them to take over the farm. 

Although Nyatsuro was not personally aggressive, the group was very threatening, warning Rankin that his farm and his equipment would be taken, and he would be left with nothing.

On October 12, pressure mounted against Rankin and his wife, who were locked into their house by aggressive invaders.

Rankin is involved in giving evidence against the ruling party Governor of Mashonaland Central province, Advocate Martin Dinha, for extorting large amounts of money from desperate white farmers so that they would be allowed to continue farming. 

Under current Zimbabwean law, if a white farmer refuses to hand over his farm, he can face criminal prosecution and up to two years in prison for continuing to remain on “state” land. Paying a bribe is very often the only other option.

Dinha was involved in the defence team for the Zimbabwe Government in the Campbell Case in the SADC Tribunal, which ruled in November 2008 that the government violated the SADC Treaty by denying access to the courts and engaging in racial discrimination against white farmers.

Rankin managed to get a High Court order barring the British doctor and his “rent a crowd” from the property. It was served on them on the evening of October 12 by the messenger of the court. 

Rankin and his wife then spent the night bravely at home, but were deprived of sleep by the rabble-rousing crowd. The following day, October 13, again in defiance of the High Court, Mrs Nyatsuro came with a bus of reinforcements for the invaders.

“Such lawless behaviour happens all the time in Zimbabwe,” said Ben Freeth, spokesperson for SADC Tribunal Rights Watch. “Police simply refuse to uphold High Court orders when their political masters tell them not to.” 

“For 15 years, we have been battling with racist attacks on white-owned commercial farms, and from time to time, white-owned businesses – it is a culture of complete impunity,” he added.

On October 8, it was reported that the UK and the US have pledged US$43 million for food relief for Zimbabwe in a bid to rescue at least 650,000 hunger victims. Since 2002, USAID has provided more than US$1 billion in humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe.

USAID mission director, Stephanie Funk, said that humanitarian assistance alone was not enough and that the root cause of the poverty and hunger needed to be addressed.

Freeth believes that the diplomatic community, which has provided such vast and generous amounts of food aid since the beginning of the farm invasions 15 years ago, needs to visit invaded farms and witness first-hand the lawlessness which is the root cause of the hunger and poverty. 

“They haven’t been to a farm which is experiencing a lawless takeover for at least seven years - and yet it’s been happening all the time,” said Freeth.

“The international community needs to initiate an investigation under the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. They can’t just watch this abuse from a distance and do nothing about it,” he concluded.

Statement issued by Ben Freeth, SADC Tribunal Watch spokesperson, 14 October 2015