Police have launched a manhunt for a band of thugs operating in the Chinyamukwakwa area of Chisumbanje in Chipinge, committing acts of banditry against the Chisumbanje ethanol project, Green Fuel, under the guise of being landless villagers.
The gang is allegedly being led by opposition party Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe president Mr Elton Mangoma and activist Mr Claris Madhuku.
In the spate of attacks, the gang targets Green Fuel employees, community irrigation infrastructure and agricultural machinery.
Police national spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba on Monday confirmed the violence that broke out on September 12 after Mr Mangoma told his supporters to reclaim land he claimed was taken over by Green Fuel at their ethanol-producing plant.
“We are investigating the matter,” said Snr Asst Comm Charamba. “Elton Mangoma addressed a rally in the area where he told his supporters that Green Fuel took their land. He urged them to reclaim the land. On September 13, Mangoma’s supporters accosted Green Fuel staff and attacked them with stones. One tractor was pelted with stones.”
Community leaders in the area have called on Government to intervene in the matter.
In a recent attack over the weekend, soon after a rally convened by Messrs Mangoma and Madhuku in Chinyamukwakwa, Green Fuel assistant general manager Mr Raphael Zuze confirmed that the firm’s property was damaged.
Mr Zuze said security details on regular field patrols were targeted, severely beaten and have since been hospitalised at St Peter’s Hospital near Checheche.
“Two Green Fuel security guards – Zondai Ndlovu and Jabulani Mamhere – who were on patrol were assaulted and robbed of cash and personal belongings.
“Mamhere sustained head injuries, wounds below the left eye and injuries to his backbone as well as collar bone while Ndlovu sustained facial wounds,” said Mr Zuze.
Just before the attacks, Mr Mangoma told his supporters at the political rally in Chinyamukwakwa that he had never supported the ethanol project.
“I never wanted this factory, but (Morgan) Tsvangirai let you down. He is the one who approved it,” Mr Mangoma is alleged to have said.
Mr Mangoma last night denied ever inciting his supporters to commit acts of violence and vandalism at Green Fuel.
“Certainly I am not aware that any property was vandalised and people attacked. Absolutely no. I did not incite people to take the law into their own hands,” said Mr Mangoma.
After the rally in Chisumbanje, Mr Mangoma said he met and talked to Green Fuel founder Mr Billy Rautenbach in Borrowdale, Harare, but he never mentioned the incident.
“Am actually surprised. If I did that, he would have told me.”
Mr Mangoma said his position on land was clear and that he did not support a situation where land was taken from blacks and given to a white man.
Local traditional leaders have condemned the attacks and challenged Government to intervene and ensure peace prevails.
“No one in Government is seeing what is happening here and as community leaders we are sending out (dis)stress signals. This project rescued us from drought induced perennial hunger through irrigation development.
“Now these thugs are being funded by opportunistic political formations to totally derail the true narrative of this project and paint a bad picture about community-investor relations,” said Headman Chinyamukwakwa.
He accused opposition political activists led by Messrs Mangoma and Madhuku of conniving with the criminals, who are targaeting international donor funds in the guise of fighting for the rights of landless villagers.
“As I speak to you, the massive irrigation infrastructure developed by Green Fuel has been vandalised and disconnected from water mains because the company water engineers who assist us technically are being attacked when they perform their routine operations,” he said.
Chief Garahwa said that his office, as the custodian of the land, had been totally undermined by the rogue activists who use money from donors in litigation.
“The whole chain of the mischief is very efficiently co-ordinated from the youths who carry out the attacks, reporters who publish false information and media networks, which readily beam the whole drama to the rest of the unsuspecting donor community.
“I challenge any of these donors to come down here and see the facts for themselves. They will be shocked at seeing what their money is being used to do. My voice is being ignored. This group is using money to totally destroy village peace and divert youth energy from constructive employment.”
He said youths were being bussed in from areas beyond the geographic scope of the project to carry out acts of violence against company employees and villagers working in the irrigation schemes.
Due to the acts of vandalism on water conveyance systems, crops in the massive irrigation schemes at Chinyamukwakwa are suffering moisture stress, which could cost the farmers thousands of dollars in the backdrop of a drought.
The irrigation schemes are a source of livelihood for more than 700 families. Green Fuel is pumping water for 27 kilometres from the Save River to the community irrigation schemes in the Chinyamukwakwa area.