(Johannesburg) – Anti-riot police have harassed, beaten, and ordered some 200 families off a farm linked to President Robert Mugabe’s family, Human Rights Watch said today. The police affirmed in a court filing that the Arnolds Farm in Mazowe, Mashonaland Central province, Zimbabwe, which the families have occupied since 2000, is owned by the president’s family. Human Rights Watch could not independently verify the farm ownership.
On March 17, 2017, about 100 anti-riot police began demolishing homes at Arnolds Farm, forcing residents onto trucks and dumping them by the roadside 40 kilometers away. On March 24, the farm residents obtained a High Court order to stop the evictions, and barred the police from harassing them by demolishing their homes or attempting to evict them without a valid court order. The police told lawyers representing the farm residents they were acting on the orders of their “superiors,” but did not have a High Court order approving the eviction, as required by the law. A January 14, 2015, High Court order similarly prohibited the police from interfering with farming activities at Arnolds Farm and from demolishing the residents’ homes and other property.
“The police are illegally tearing down homes at Arnolds Farm, leaving hundreds of people homeless and destitute in heavy rains and cold weather,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Residents have occupied the farm for 17 years, and any process to evict them should respect their rights and follow due process.”
Witnesses at Arnolds Farm told Human Rights Watch that anti-riot police, who claimed to be acting on behalf of First Lady Grace Mugabe, on several occasions ordered residents to leave the farm, demolished homes, destroyed property, and beat up those who resisted. The police would put a rope around each house, tie it to a truck, and then drive the truck to pull the house down. They then cordoned off the area, set up entry and exit checkpoints, stationed 18 police officers to patrol the farm, and told the residents that anyone found on the farm would be trespassing.
Two residents have since been arrested and charged with criminal trespassing because, according to police statements in court, they allegedly, “illegally entered into Arnolds Farm, which is owned by the First Family.” Lawyers provided to the two residents by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a local group, witnessed the police assaulting their clients during the arrest. The magistrates’ court later freed the two.
The police have now demolished most of the homes on the farm, as well as makeshift shelters subsequently built by residents. Many families have lost their crops and livestock during the demolitions and now live and sleep in the open with no protection from the rain and cold. Police harassment has prevented the families from harvesting their corn, sugar beans, and groundnuts crops. When a Human Rights Watch team visited Arnolds Farm on May 9, they witnessed four uniformed and armed anti-riot police and six people in civilian clothes demolish homes and destroy property belonging to farm residents. Human Rights Watch interviewed five men whom the police had beaten on the soles of their feet that day for refusing to leave the farm.
The Arnolds Farm families have refused to move despite continuing police harassment because the government has not provided them with suitable alternative land. Since 2015, the government has resettled just five families from the farm, but offered no compensation. The families, through the Arnolds Farm Residents Association, are demanding an immediate end to police harassment and appropriate compensation before they move.
The government should ensure that the Arnolds Farm residents are not denied their rights under international law and Zimbabwe’s constitution, including the rights to shelter, food, health, and the prohibition of torture, Human Rights Watch said. The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, which Zimbabwe ratified, requires in article 3(1)(a) that states parties “refrain from, prohibit and prevent arbitrary displacement of populations.”
Human Rights Watch made efforts to contact lawyers who represent the Mugabes, as well as provincial affairs and police officials, but did not receive any reply to questions regarding the ownership of Arnolds Farm and the conduct of the police.
“The government should urgently intervene in the Arnolds Farm case to stop the ongoing violation of court orders and abuses,” Mavhinga said. “The government should also investigate police conduct and punish any who are found responsible for the abuses.”