ZANU PF Masvingo provincial officials have grabbed a massive flourishing ranch in Chiredzi owned by an Italian national and ring-fenced under a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (Bippa) between Zimbabwe and Italy.
Ruling party Masvingo provincial member Godfrey Huruva and a prominent Chiredzi medical doctor Tsungirirayi Rukatya, who has close ruling party links, have been accused of violating the Bippa using guns and machetes.
Approached for comment, Huruva said he was busy driving and would comment later, but failed to fulfil his promise.
However, the latest farm invasion on Bippa land is likely to have overarching consequences as it can potentially spark a diplomatic tiff between Harare and Rome — a key member of the European Union (EU).
Zimbabwe is already an international pariah that needs more friends than enemies.
The farm grab flies in the face of the government’s pledge to ensure properties under bilateral agreements are protected. The government, in a land compensation deal signed last year, also agreed to bring back foreign landowners who were evicted from their properties held under Bippas during the chaotic post-2000 land redistribution exercise.
The sprawling 5 000-hectare ranch, known as Oscro Farm, belongs to Tony Renato Sarpo who bought the property in 1987 — title deed number 2556/88 — and had currently planted 120ha of sugarcane valued at ZW$51,3 million (US$313 140) before milling.
Sarpo also boasted of 200 head of Brahman cattle which allegedly vanished following a violent invasion of the farm by Huruva and Rukatya.
Huruva is also Chiredzi council chairperson.
At the height of the late former Robert Mugabe land grabs, Oscro Farm was gazetted for resettlement, but the decision was rescinded in May 2005 as the government cited the property’s Bippa status.
The then Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement ministry delisted Bippa farms as it named Italy and Indonesia as “high priority” (friendly countries).
Thus, the fresh farm invasion is likely to severe ties between Zimbabwe and Italy as the two countries have a binding agreement signed on April 16, 1999. Bippas protect investments of citizens of either country.
There is also Statutory Instrument (SI) 62 of 2020 that protects land covered by Bippas.
Some of the countries covered under Bippas include Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Malaysia, Denmark and Switzerland.
Government is bound by Bippas to respect property rights and payment of compensation in currency of a farm owner’s choice for both land and improvements because the farms were bought by white farmers using private capital.
Italy is an EU economic powerhouse and is the sixth largest importer of agricultural products in the bloc. The country also boasts a large manufacturing industry with cutting-edge technology, food processing, packing and agricultural machinery which Zimbabwe could harness since its economy is largely agro-based.
When President Emmerson Mnangagwa assumed office after the November 2017 military take-over, a group of 200 investors from Italian multinational companies visited Zimbabwe, but none of the deals materialised.
Just last week, the United Kingdom’s Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, said investors were shunning Zimbabwe due to abuse of property rights and other legal concerns.
Documents obtained by the Zimbabwe Independent, show that Huruva and Rukatya have caused trouble at Oscro Farm since February 23, 2019 after invading the property, claiming they had offer letters.
In a letter dated February 2, 2021, written by Sarpo to Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Settlement minister Anxious Masuka, Huruva allegedly invaded the farm in 2019 and “removed personal property from my workshop, storerooms and homestead and broke entry to where he desired”.
Masuka and his permanent secretary John Bhasera’s mobile phones went unanswered several times, yesterday.
However, after the 2019 farm grab, Sarpo sought relief from the courts and the then High Court judge Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo, who is now the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) chair, ruled against Huruva and his associates.
But the High Court order was ignored.
The farm invasion chaos was later settled by the late Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Settlement minister Perrance Shiri.
Now that Shiri has died, Huruva and Rukatya are back at the farm, according to Sarpo.
In a desperate fire-fighting mode, Sarpo wrote to Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga, on January 24, to report the fresh farm invasion.
“In 2019, Huruva forced himself into my personal home and workshop and continues to do so despite a court order and three cases against him. The court order specifically instructs the police to assist in the removal of this person and his associates,” he said.
“The latest incident occurred on Friday 22nd of January 2021, at approximately 7pm. Huruva arrived at the homestead in a Toyota Fortuner and a Toyota Hilux single cab accompanied by five machete wielding people who informed the farm manager Moffat Bikausi that they had been hired to forcibly remove him. They drove away and Bikausi heard gunshots being fired.”
Sarpo also complained that Bikausi and his family were evicted by Huruva’s armed gang.
Bikausi could not be reached for comment as his mobile phone was not reachable.
Disturbances at Oscro Farm have previously caught the attention of the Italian embassy in Harare which wrote to the government complaining about the issue.
In 2014, Italian ambassador to Zimbabwe Enrico de Agostini wrote to the then Environment and Natural Resources Management minister Saviour Kasukuwere seeking Sarpo’s protection.
“Please find herewith enclosed a note verbale concerning Oscro Farm owned by the Italian national Tony Sarpo, which falls under Bippa signed between Zimbabwe and the Republic of Italy on 16 April, 1999. The farm is currently experiencing an invasion, notwithstanding the fact that it is part of the Chiredzi River Conservancy and it falls under the jurisdiction of national parks,” Agostini said.
But all the pleas to respect property rights enshrined in Bippa seem to have fallen on deaf ears as invasions continued unabated.