Bulawayo -Seven men were released on bail this week for allegedly invading a vast ranch owned by a company controlled by South Africa’s wealthy Oppenheimer family about 80km east of Bulawayo.

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iol nws nov 20 Nicky OppenheimerThe Debshan ranch is still a major beef producer and safe haven for much game.

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Prosecutors at the Bulawayo Magistrate’s Court charged Tichaona Hove, Julius Maromom Leonard Maphosa, Ronias Mawerewere, Roman Ndlovu, Talent Matungamire and Pride Maphosa, for building huts on a section of the ranch in January.

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According to the state, the men, all under 40, did not have permission from the lands ministry to occupy any part of the ranch.

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The name of the ranch arises from the Oppenheimers’ famous diamond company, DeBeers – which they recently sold – and the local Shangani River. It was established by the family in the 1930s.

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It was listed for occupation by the Zimbabwe government in 2000, but after a huge chunk of it was given to the state, with cash to help establish new farmers, it was delisted.

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The Commercial Farmers Union in Bulawayo said on Wednesday that Debshan was still a “substantial” beef cattle farm.

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Bulawayo newspaper, Southern Eye, noted that police had been “reluctant” to tackle farm invaders on rural properties owned by “less influential white farmers”.

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It appears the remaining land owned by Debshan is about 10 000ha.

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About 4 000 white commercial farmers have lost their land, homes and sometimes crops, cattle and personal possessions since 2000 following land invasions which began after the new Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) threatened Zanu-PF’s political power.

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Between 200 and 300 white, mostly tobacco, farmers remain on small parts of their original landholdings, but the vast majority of the white farmers became homeless after they were, often violently, evicted. So far only a few white farmers, most of them over 70, have accepted a small amount for their farms, mostly during the unity government era between 2009 and 2013.

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All previously white-owned farmland, including that still used by remaining farmers, is state-owned. Most of the best farms were given to Zanu-PF politicians, leaders in state security sector and senior public servants such as most judges in the High Court and Supreme Court.

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The disruption of Zimbabwe’s mainly agricultural economy after 2000 led to economic collapse, according to state statistics. – IOL