Eighty-year-old Mananje conservancy and Benfer Estate owner Ian Ferguson, has been fighting to hold on to his two properties which have been invaded time and again for over a decade.
By Kudzai Kuwaza
Ferguson has spared no effort in his quest to protect his properties, the 17 500 hectare game ranch Mananje conservancy and the 1 400 hectare citrus Benfer Estates in Beitbridge.
He has knocked on the doors of the two vice-presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko in his battle to retain his conservancy and farm.
Mananje has been invaded four times since 2000 with the most recent being in 2013 which has resulted in the killing of animals, the ransacking of lodges and theft of 57km of fencing.
The game ranch has been flooded with goats, sheep and cattle, threatening the conservancy’s ecosystem. Tourists who used to visit the conservancy, are now gone due to the invasions.
The invasion of Benfer Estates by among others, army official Darlington Muleya has severely hampered operations with most citrus trees destroyed. The damage caused by the invasions has forced Ferguson to abandon the export of citrus fruits which helped bring in the much needed foreign currency.
Ferguson said the invasions at the conservancy alone had set him back by more than two decades.
“The invasions at the conservancy have set us back by 25 years,” Ferguson told The Standard. “Most of my fellow farmers have given up. I have been invaded four times at Mananje and every invasion was a jambanja (violent).”
Ferguson, who was at one time arrested for holding on to Mananje, has had to replace his property stolen by invaders on three occasions at great cost. Some of the property stolen is of huge personal significance which has been passed down from generation to generation.
The invaders have even built structures despite having eviction orders served on them. Ferguson said efforts to get the police to evict them had been futile as they consistently ignored his pleas.
“All the nonsense that is happening would have been unnecessary had the police done their job,” he said.
Ferguson says he feels let down by fellow affected white farmers in the area whom he says abandoned him to fight his battle alone.
“I have had no support from other white farmers,” he said. “I feel absolutely betrayed by other affected white farmers with one of them even telling my son ‘You have made your bed, now you must lie in it.’”
Ferguson, who settled in Beitbridge in 1953, vows he will never give up his fight to reclaim his properties despite getting no joy from senior government officials among them Lands minister Douglas Mombeshora and the two VPs.
“We have come so far in our fight against the illegal invasion of our properties and to give up now would be stupid,” he said. “I have never thought of myself as any sort of martyr but have just tried to live by the old world values that I was brought up in and doing so I feel I have retained my dignity and self-respect and have never subscribed to the adage of ‘feeding the crocodile hoping it will eat you last’, as so many of the farmers have done.”
Lawyer Winston Tshakalisa has stood beside Ferguson in his bruising legal battles and the two have formed a close bond.
“I would not be here had it not been for Winston,” Ferguson reflects. We speak four times a day and none of the conversations are shorter than five minutes and never has he once charged me for his services.”
Ferguson also attributes his resolve to keep fighting on his workers who have stuck by him through the trials and tribulations brought about by the invasions, sometimes at the risk of their lives. Some of the workers have been with him since 1967.
He employs 20 workers at the conservancy and has 140 at Benfer Estates.
Ferguson communicates fluently with his workers in the Sotho dialect Lozwe spoken in the south western areas of Zimbabwe and the border with Botswana. He attributes the fluency in the language to working in the Beitbridge community for many years where he was an irrigation specialist.
A former head boy and rugby captain, Ferguson qualified to be an airforce pilot and at one time owned a plane.
A close friend to Ferguson who requested anonymity describes the farmer as a fighter who does not know when and how to quit.
“I have assisted this gentleman over the years in his personal and lone struggle against this brutal regime. To my knowledge he is or was the only farmer to commit to the legal process right through to the very end and won,” he enthused.
“This is despite every ounce of government resources and whatever thuggery they could disguise, being thrown at him, month after month and year after year.
“Ian is a gentleman, proud African and someone who has committed his life to the people and country he loves.
“He built an enterprise employing many who would otherwise be destitute in one of the poorest corners of Zimbabwe.”
Ferguson is Australian rugby star David Pocock’s grandfather. Pocock’s parents were forced to flee Zimbabwe after their farm was seized by the government.