Meet the black farmer who walked to State House to save his farm

via Meet the black farmer who walked to State House to save his farm May 18, 2014 by Phyllis Mbanje in Zimbabwe Standard

HE wrote 11 letters to President Robert Mugabe, took a brave walk to State House risking being shot down, in a bid to save his farm.

Luke Thembani is known for being the first black commercial farmer to take his case to the now disbanded Sadc tribunal after contesting the sale of his land in Nyazura. He won his case but sadly lost the farm along with most of his property acquired over 20 years.

And now 77 years old Thembani is wallowing in abject poverty in the dusty streets of Vhengere township in Rusape. With diabetes and high blood pressure, it is no wonder the old man is bitter.

The Standard crew caught up with Thembani in Rusape last week where he was looking tired and haggard.

“No one seems to care or even remember what I contributed to my community. It is painful at my age to be going through all these hardships,” he said.

With a distant and resigned look, Thembani tells his story.

“I bought the farm in Nyazura from a white commercial farmer called Muller in 1983. He was a neighbour to a farm where I worked,” he said. “On June 4 1983 I moved to the farm. I was excited about the big plans that I had for my farm and immediately went to work.”

Luke Thembani...  He is hoping one day he will complete building his house in Rusape. Pictures: Shepherd Tozvireva

Luke Thembani… He is hoping one day he will complete building his house in Rusape. Pictures: Shepherd Tozvireva

Over the years he made several improvements on the farm. He built houses for his farm workers, constructed dams and created paddocks.

“I grew tobacco and had 40 hectares of the crop. I also raised over 250 head of cattle along with a successful piggery project,” he said.

However, the gentle farmer with a big heart felt he needed to do more for his community, especially the children.

“I realised there was need for a school and a clinic. Pregnant women had to walk 14km to the nearest health facility,” he said.

Thembani, galvanised into action by the great need of his community, wrote a letter to the government requesting a school and a clinic.

“The government said there was no money and that if I had some, I could go ahead and build the school and clinic,” he said.

In 1986, Thembani built a school with four classrooms, an office block and houses for teachers. The following year the school proudly opened to 321 pupils.

“The government deployed eight teachers and finally my dream was coming true,” he said with pride glowing in his eyes.

The black commercial farmer, now well-recognised in the society, went on to build a church for his workers and surrounding community.

“I wanted the children to know the good ways of the Lord and stay out of trouble,” he said.

However, none of the parents could come up with levies to keep the school going and after fruitless efforts to get them to pay, Thembani resolved to make education free.

“I realised that many were not able to pay and so declared free education up until 2000,” he said.

Meanwhile, as he was focused on improving the lives of his kith and kin, his farming exploits started to buckle under the stretched resources and coupled with the drought that persisted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he soon fell behind in repaying his loan with Agribank.

“They refused to give me further loans and threatened to sell my farm to recover their money if I did not pay up,” he said.

Thembani lost his fight in 2000 and the bank put up his farm for sale.

“Two people were interested and one bidded for the farm,” he said.

The farm was sold to Takawira Zembe, a businessman who only paid 10% at the auction.

Thembani’s lawyer, a (Mrs) Makoni, managed to stop the sale but only for a short time.

“I could not pay the legal fees anymore and my farm was suffering. I was no longer in control of my life.”

Thembani went to court and won his case but it was appealed at the Supreme Court and he lost.

Desperate and hurt, he approached the Sadc tribunal in 2009 and the ruling was in his favour, but the government refused to recognise this decision.
He was finally evicted on October 16 2009 by the Deputy Sheriff.

“I only managed to take away a few possessions but the rest was left behind and I never recovered it.”

For years he fought the decision but failing health and inadequate resources slowed him down.

Hopeless and unsure how he will survive, Thembani hopes one day he will complete building his house currently under construction.

“I have no electricity at the moment, I survive on hand-outs and my health is worrying me,” he says, gazing dejectedly at his unfinished house.

Thembani is not the only farmer who lost a farm, but he is recognised for standing up for justice and trying to upgrade his community which sadly does not seem to remember him in times of need.



  • comment-avatar

    What an anti climax! DID HE GET TO STATE HOUSE? If so what happened? Did he see The Great Oppressor? What was the outcome of the meeting?

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    Chaka 9 years ago

    Obviously not a zpf member

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    Matake 9 years ago

    Wrong title, very little on State house outcome, besides it seems farm was seized legally so why cry foul?! The can be an ass if caught on the wrong side of it. It appears Thembani risked everthing for good name’s sake, always a difficult balancing act with reality..!

    • comment-avatar

      True, Mateke. How does the state house come in here.
      Painful story on the Part of Thembani, good lesson to us. Do not lead a heavily indebted life, it’s dangerous.

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    noone can c u madhara vakaipa vanhu ava just wait God knows he wil bless pamabasa amakabata.

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    Jenandebvu 9 years ago

    What poor reporting, kunge munhu akaputa mbanje. Does the name built have a name? Ko loan account inotaurwa iyi wamboiongorora here? It is normal that Farmers who fail to pay their loan commitments loose the farms mortgaged to the lender. I don’t envy the land reform of 2000 but in this case it is very innocent

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    Jenandebvu 9 years ago

    Sorry meant the name of school he built, don’t say Mahere pliz

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    a sad but also uplifting story about a gentleman who put his neighbors first, and treated them with compassion.

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    The story is irrelevant to the topic. There is no mention of state house here. Did he ever save his farm?

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    publicprotector 9 years ago

    A sad story devoid of fact or journalistic investigation.
    SADC has a court this is true but it has no jurisdiction over Zimbabwe, contrary to stupid journalistic propaganda.
    If it has no jurisdiction then a supreme court ruling is the end of the road other than a presidential intervention.
    For those a little dim, you can not impose a foreign court on any country or its rulings – laws are different in many countries thus an international law does not exist.
    This makes the article a lot of talk about nothing, better luck next time, get a journalistic investigator to have a go, to come up with some facts.

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      Umwrong 9 years ago

      You are speaking obviously without any facts on-hand. The ZANU-PF government was a party to the creation of both the Southern African Development Community as a group and its tribunal, which served its purpose in this case.

      Your populist blather and likely ZANU allegiances are duly and equally noted.

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    Seems a nice guy who was not a businessman. Overspent on charity without taking care of the origin. Shame the people he helped out have forgotten him.

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    Realist 9 years ago

    Poor reporting in deed. This story has nothing to do with the land reform nor Mugabe himself. I also don’t see why the old man was approaching Mugabe for help. Its true the guy helped his community but certainly he did not run his farm as a business. CSR is good but you cannot do it at the expense of the very source of your income. Hurting as it is to see the old man’s current state but to me this was all utter stupid the way he went out trying to please all and sundry, even before he had fully paid up his loan to Agribank

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    Daniel 9 years ago

    Well said Realist.Luke took his eye off the ball,namely his farming after a few good years and paid the price.Many farmers lost their livlihoods even though they were VERY successful and didnt owe a cent.They have reason to feel agreived.

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    nyoni 9 years ago

    So hurtful to see a selfless man in this way who has helped many. I will contact sir soon. I am near where you are. So dont despair.

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    Nyarai 9 years ago

    We are only en route home. Its very disturbing. In as much as he moved the eye off the ball, I salute this man. He is definitely going HOME. Philanthropist he is and old man hold on.

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    ngungu 9 years ago

    I thought the farm was “liberated”, but it’s all fair and legal, a case of a failed business, not the only one.

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    Straight Shooter 9 years ago

    Black on Black cruelty!!

    As I have always said, I respect Ian Smith for one thing – he stood by his his people. Even if it was for racial reasons, at least he was a man of his word.

    As for the blackman – who is there for you on this planet? Nobody. The fellow blackman is the blackman’s worst enemy. The whiteman is indeed far better!

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    Kumar Danesh 9 years ago

    Yes, Mudhara did a lot for the community, but akairasa kuzotora mukadzi wechidiki achisiya chembere yamuzvarira 9 kids all in gainful employment and businesses. These could have bailed him out (loan repayments) if he had not mistreated their mother. FACT! A lesson to all man, stick with that woman who saw you rising up.

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    Mafirakureva 9 years ago

    this type of reporting is pathetic. surely you could have saved us the blushes if you had said this was schoolboy fiction story. the facts of the matter are totally ignored. state house does not feature anywhere. this is a failed business story pure and simple and treat it as such.(kuita zvavaJiri kunotoda kuziva formula yavo)