Local Government minister July Moyo facilitated a controversial takeover of land belonging to the Masvingo City Council by a Midlands based giant steel maker at below market rates in a deal that has deprived poor families a source of livelihood, investigations have revealed.
As cabinet minister, Moyo—who declined to comment on the matter—played a key role in the parceling out of the 125 hectare piece of land in the high density suburb of Mucheke valued at US$10 million by an independent valuator to a subsidiary of the Redcliff-based SteelMakers known as Simbi.
Simbi obtained the land for less than US$1.8 million after Moyo flexed his muscles through the Local Government ministry, documents show.
The minister, who is a Zanu PF heavyweight with strong base in Redcliff, is a key ally of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa’s office has also been drawn into the controversy over the takeover of the land that has resulted in the displacement of 20 poor urban farmers after the ministry justified the deal by saying the president had the prerogative on who gets allocated land.
SteelMakers (Pvt) Ltd is one of the leading manufacturers, suppliers and exporters of steel hot rolled and alloy casting products.
The group of companies is chaired by Rasik Patel, the founder of Hot Rolled Steel Industry in East Africa. Some its directors are based in the United Kingdom.
Locally, the group is run by Kaplesh Patel, who is also a director at Mayfair Bank Kenya, MP SHAH Hospital Kenya, Steelmakers Kenya and Sotrafer DRC.
The controversial deal by Steelmalers’ Masvingo based company, Simbi, has provoked the ire of councilors and urban farmers who feel the poor families that were using the land for subsistence agriculture were treated unfairly.
They also feel the local authority was prejudiced because it will not get anything from the deal.
Investigations by The Standard in partnership with Information Development Trust, a non-profit organisation supporting investigative journalism in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, revealed that Simbi paid a measly amount for the land after Moyo’s intervention.
The firm first set up a plant in Masvingo in 2004 on a piece of land measuring 67 hectares along Mashava Road.
At the plant, it manufactures sponge iron that is used to make steel from raw materials sourced at its Glenlivet Mine, located 40 kilometres from the City of Masvingo, and a coal mine located in Chiredzi.
In November 2021, Simbi applied to council for additional land measuring 125 hectares, which it said was for expansion purposes, but was turned down.
The city fathers refused to approve the application arguing that the firm must first show that it had capacity to fully utilise the land that it already owned.
When council eventually gave in to pressure from government this year, the land was valued at US$8 million by Great Zimbabwe Realtors and US$10 million by Ebenezer Properties.
Great Zimbabwe Realtors and Ebenezer Properties were contracted by the local authority in an effort to get a transparent deal from Simbi, investigations by this publication showed.
The government valued the land at US$1,8 million before Simbi offered to pay US$1,5 million over five years and demanded title deeds before making a full payment.
Council, however, insisted on the US$10 million price tag that was recommended by Great Zimbabwe Realtors, resulting in a standoff with the firm.
Moyo then intervened and his ministry allegedly arm-twisted council to cede the land to Simbi after promising to compensate the local authority with land elsewhere in the city.
In a letter to council dated October 20, 2022, the ministry’s permanent secretary Zvinechimwe Churu, directed council to immediately transfer the land to Simbi.
“It has come to the ministry’s attention that, despite offering Simbi (Pvt) Ltd the applied 125 hectares of land, commencement of work has been stalled because the parties have reached a stalemate on the valuation of the land,” reads Churu’s letter seen by this publication.
“The ministry is, therefore, requesting your office to formally allocate Simbi (Pvt) Ltd the applied for land so that they can commence their operations without any further delays since the rain season is approaching.
“In the same vein, you are advised to handover the allocated land to the ministry and liaise with our state land management section to identify alternative land as compensation for the 125 hectares.
“Be guided accordingly.”
Masvingo mayor Collen Maboke initially challenged Churu’s directive, but the outgoing council that is dominated by the opposition Citizen Coalition for Change eventually capitulated.
“According to the Urban Councils Act, the central government has no power to direct us to give land to a private company unless the land is for agricultural purposes,” Maboke said in an earlier interview.
“The directive is wrong as the permanent secretary has no such powers, only the minister can give such directives to the mayor or town clerk.
“The decision lies with the council and we have 30 days to reply and depending on how busy we are.
“What we can do at the moment is to advise him to read the Act properly because we are very busy currently.
“We are not going to comply with the directive in any way because it is illegal.”
After 30 days, the outgoing mayor indicated that the opposition controlled council had given in to pressure from central government.
He said they were now waiting for Moyo to transfer the land to the local authority.
Maboke said the land council had identified for its compensation near Clipsham on the outskirts of the city along the Harare-Beitbridge highway was being claimed by war veterans.
Masvingo town clerk Edward Mukaratirwa refused to divulge information on the nature of the compensation, claiming it was confidential since it was handled at committee level by council.
Kept in the dark
Council has been kept in the dark about the final price that Simbi paid and the Local Government ministry refused to divulge the transaction details to this publication.
Moyo insisted that the land deal was above board, but refused to entertain more questions even after he was told that councilors were claiming that he had a personal interest in the deal because of Steelmakers’ Redcliff links.
He referred further questions to the ministry’s spokesperson.
Gabriel Masvora, the director of communications in the Local Government ministry, defended the deal saying all land in Zimbabwe was bestowed on the president, who had the prerogative to decide on its use and allocation.
“Every year, the government, through the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, receives many requests for land from various stakeholders, private companies included, for different uses, including expansion of operations,” Masvora said.
“The government will weigh the benefits and take appropriate action.
“In most cases, government looks at the long-term benefits of the project (employment, taxes, exports, among others things) before coming up with the appropriate decision.
“In the case of Simbi Steelmakers, the company, like many others, approached the ministry to seek land at concessionary rates to expand its operations.
“A deal was struck for Masvingo City Council to provide the land to Simbi while the government seeks alternative land to compensate the local authority.”
He said the local authority would not be prejudiced in the deal as it was being compensated.
“The compensation process is in motion and it will ensure that the local authority is adequately reimbursed so that they are not prejudiced in any way,” Masvora added.
“In essence, it will be as if Simbi were allocated state land and the local authority will be left in the same position as it were before the transaction.”
He revealed that Simbi would get the land for a fee that is significantly lower than what council had originally charged.
“It’s not for free, but generally, it’s cheaper than if they had gotten it from council,” Masvora said.
“It’s the same with individuals, if you get a stand from state (commonage) it is cheaper than buying from council or private developers.”
He dismissed charges by councilors that Moyo had a personal interest in the deal as political banter.
Simbi general manager Bimlendu Mehta confirmed that the firm got the land after the ministry’s intervention, but terminated the call in the middle of the interview.
Subsequent questions sent to the company were ignored.
Simbi’s company secretary Lewis Karowangoma, who is also the firm’s head of finance, did not respond to questions from this publication about the land deal.
Insiders at the firm said the company wanted to use the land to establish a 43 megawatt power plant, a cement manufacturing plant and a rolling mill plant.
A visit to the Simbi premises showed that there has been no development on the land several months after it was taken over.
One of the people that have been left reeling by the deal is 62 year-old Sharon Chisunge, who has relied on the piece of land to feed her family since the 1980s.
“I have been farming on this piece of land since the 1980s and it has sustained the family following my husband’s death in 1999,” Chisunge said.
“At times I harvest as much as 12 tonnes of maize and it lasts us a year with my three grandchildren.
“Sometimes I sell the maize to the Grain Marketing Board if there is a surplus and that is the money I use to send my grandchildren to school.”
She, however, said she would give up the land without any fight even as it would throw her family deeper into poverty because she cannot be seen to be fighting the government.
“They told us that they got the land from the government and it is not in our DNA as war veterans to fight the state,” Chisunge said resignedly.
“They know why they did that and we cannot go against that decision.”
Aleck Johannes (81), who is among the farmers that would be displaced by the controversial land swap deal, said he was bitter.
“I have been practicing urban farming since I retired from Balmain and this was my only source of income, which has gone up in smoke,” Johannes said. Balman is a defunct chain store.
“I have great grandchildren that I look after whose mothers went to South Africa a long time ago for greener pastures and two of them are children of my late grandson.
“I don’t know what to do and I call upon the government to intervene and allow us to continue tilling our land.”
He said what pained them most was that there was no development taking place on the land that has since been fenced off.
Ian Scoones, a professional fellow at the Institute of Development Studies in the United Kingdom’s University of Sussex in a paper on the growth of urban agriculture in Zimbabwe noted that it has become a major source of food in the last 30 years for urban households.
The failure of the local currency has meant that parallel currency systems exist and inflation is rising,” Scoones wrote.
“The costs of household food provisioning rises daily and with the challenges of finding gainful employment, this means that growing food for urban families is essential.”
This story was co- published by The Standard Zimbabwe working in collaboration with IDT