Criminal gangs are taking advantage of those who still believe corruption is rife in Government circles, despite the evidence that it is not tolerated, to sell fake offer letters of farms for bribes ranging from US$350 to US$3 000.
The price depends on the size of the farm and its location.
Under land reform, allocations are free, although farmers granted land rights are expected to pay local authority taxes and other charges. But some think they can oil the wheels with cash, or even beasts, and these are the people the criminals prey on.
The criminals forge signatures of lands allocation officers while some have even gone to the extent of forging the signature of the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement.
In some cases, a genuine offer letter is the basis of a scam, being carefully scanned and altered to produce a large batch of offer letters for the same farm for a lot of people at the lands offices.
Mashonaland Central’s Mazowe district is the most affected area with a number of criminals taking advantage of the ongoing land audit and the intended downsizing of underused farms. Criminals are already on the ground, faking the downsizing, creating fake A1 farms and then demanding bribes for allocating these fake farms.
Recently two suspects, Dzingai Chipara (47) and Nyembesi Tirivayi (59) were arrested for processing fake offer letters in respect of 26 land seekers, mainly civil servants, and charging them between US$350 and US$2 000.
They allegedly pretended to allocate them A1 plots at Three Sisters Farm in Mvurwi. But some farmers in the community grew suspicious and questioned the settling of the group and demanded to see their offer letters.
The offer letters turned out to be fake and the 26 are now State witnesses in a criminal case pending at Guruve Magistrates’ Court.
Police recovered the fake offer letters, which are now held as exhibits in the criminal case in which the two are now being charged with fraud.
A further check with records at Guruve Court shows that Chipara has another case in which he allegedly fraudulently pretended to allocate an A1 plot to Tendai Chiketero for a bribe of US$1 700.
Recently, The Herald visited a number of farms in Mazowe district where farmers were breathing fire over the influx of people coming to settle on their farms with questionable offer letters. These farmers are the genuine land holders who are pushing ahead with the need to ramp up production, something impossible to do when people just turn up and build shacks.
When The Herald arrived at Villa Franker Farm in Glendale, farmers had just demolished a wooden cabin erected by a Borrowdale-based woman, only identified as Chihera after it turned out that she had a fake offer letter.
The woman reportedly paid an unknown amount to bribe people claiming to be officials from the Ministry of Lands Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement before being allocated 6ha of land on Cde Tendai Kuzvidza’s A2 farm.
Zanu-PF secretary for Lands in Mazowe district Cde James Bonde said the woman had no legal right to settle on someone’s farm without official communication from the relevant ministry.
There are two people in this area who are allocating people plots, claiming to be Government officials. They collect money from land seekers before allocating them plots without the involvement of the Government.
At Cde Kuzvidza’s farm, the woman had put up a wooden cabin and hired a young man from this community as a caretaker. Upon realising she had no valid documents, members of the community demolished the structure and took the wooden boards and roofing sheets for safekeeping at Glendale Police Station.
If she wants her things, she will get them there. She also has to explain how she came to settle on someone’s land and if she has a genuine offer letter, she must produce it to the police, he said.
Cde Bonde said eight other settlers, some three weeks ago, produced a fake offer letter while resisting eviction from another farmer’s A2 farm in the same area.
The eight illegally settled on part of a farm legally occupied by a woman only identified as Mrs Nyikayaramba.
When we asked the eight to produce their offer letters. Only one showed us a fake letter with a forged signature of a chief lands officer, who is now based in Mutare.
The holder of the offer letter later admitted it is fake saying he had been given it by an individual from this community. However, he did not state how much he had paid. They all co-operated and left Mrs Nyikayaramba’s farm, said Cde Bonde.
Village Development Committee chairman Cde Needmore Katiyo said most questionable letters in his community bear the signature of a former Masholand Central provincial chief lands officer who has since been transferred to Manicaland.
We are having problems with illegal settlers who are flocking here with forged offer letters. Some just settle without any documents. We understand there some individuals receiving bribes to illegally allocate farms to the landseekers.
They are taking advantage of Government’s downsizing programme and rush to illegally reduce some farms and allocate plots to desperate individuals using forged documents and at a fee.
Zanu-PF’s district committee is also seized with the matter and a number of suspected masterminds have since been arrested, with some appearing in court in the past three months, he said.
In Harare South, Government recently found another batch of fake offer letters allegedly produced by members of Takunda Freedom Fighters Housing Cooperative in a legal battle to control ARDA’s Nyarungu Training Centre measuring 40 hactares.
The cooperative, armed with fake documents, sought to grab the ARDA farm in Harare South but the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement said the land belonged to ARDA.
The Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, on August 20 this year dismissed all offer letters held by cooperative members as fake.
The ministry never allocated any land at Stoneridge Farm to Takunda Freedon Fighters housing cooperative.
Attached offer letters are all fake and unknown to the ministry. There was never a person known as DG Shawatu. The former State land head (in the ministry) was known as Rhory Andrew Shawatu. The signature is different from that of Mr Shawatu. The reference used and date stamp is unknown to the ministry.
The offer letter purported to be from ex-minister Kasukuwere is also fraudulent and unknown. The signature does not correspond to that of the former minister. The contents and structure of the offer letter is different from the usual ministry offer letters.
Had the offer letters emanated from the ministry, we could have kept copies of and records of them. All land files of Nyarungu and Stoneridge have none such records ever filed, reads part of the letter.
In another letter dated August 23 this year, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement said: “As far as our checks indicate, the land is held under Deed Number 267/95 which belongs to ARDA. Anyone other than ARDA, claiming the right to occupy the agricultural land, including respondents (Takunda Freedom Fighters housing cooperative) has no such right and we are not aware of how they came to claim the land. As such their occupation without lawful authority is illegal,” reads the official letter.
Recently, another criminal was jailed for forging the signature of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Minister Anxious Masuka for the allocation of State land in Mvurwi.
Bright Murandamaoko produced a fake offer letter in the name of a land seeker Mr Rudolph Jingo before demanding a bribe of US$2 000 and then swindling him.
He was slapped with wholly suspended two year prison term for fraud.
In June this year, Mr Jingo was introduced to Murandamaoko by Mr Ernest Muchenya, his neighbour. Murandamaoko then lied to Mr Jingo that he was an official from the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement and was able to arrange the allocation of land for Mr Jingo’s younger brother, Epthon, for a fee.
Jingo then applied for the 25 hectare farm in the name of his younger brother.
Murandamaoko then demanded US$2 000, of which three instalments were paid before Murandamaoko faked the required document with a forged Government letterhead and forged Minister Masuku’s signature. He handed over the letter to Mr Jingo and demanded the balance of US$500.
Mr Jingo became suspicious and approached the National Land Inspectorate offices for verification on August 18. He then discovered that it was a fake offer letter and a trap was set for Murandamaoko who was arrested by officers from the National Land Inspectorate after receiving the marked US$500.
Minister Masuka said only 20 000 have, since the beginning of the land reform programme, been settled as A2 Model farmers under the Government’s land reform programme, an indication that most of the land had been taken up.
Minister Masuka recently said this in the National Assembly while responding to questions from predominantly MDC Alliance legislators who wanted to know why it was taking long for one to be allocated land after applying.
“Most of the land has been distributed,” said Minister Masuka. “If you go around, you will not find a place that is vacant. Even where there is no farming, but in the Registry, these farms will be having owners. Actually, there is a programme underway for us to distribute land to those who are waiting. First, we are making a follow-up on those who have more than one farm. We refer to them as multiple farm owners.
“We are following up also on those who abandoned their farms. We also take note of those who are underutilising their land. We take action on derelict farm owners, he said.
Minister Masuka explained the procedure to be followed in allocating land which include an applicant going to the district lands committee to register.
He said the committee will deliberate on where to give an applicant land before recommending the person to the Provincial Lands Committee.
“Then the ministry will also closely look at it and the minister will give an offer letter,” said Minister Masuka.