A HIGH Court judge yesterday ordered prominent Matabeleland South commercial white farmer David Connolly to vacate Centenary Farm and blasted the Deputy Minister of Agriculture Paddy Zhanda for allegedly shielding him.
Connolly, through his company, JC Connolly and Sons (Pvt) Ltd, has since 2014 been locked in a protracted legal wrangle with the Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Ray Ndhlukula, over the ownership of the farm.
The ruling by Justice Joseph Musakwa of the Harare High Court follows an application by Connolly who sought the confirmation of a provisional order which was granted in his favour in 2014.
The order, by a Bulawayo High Court judge, barred Ndhlukula from evicting Connolly from Centenary Farm. The order also interdicted Ndhlukula from occupying the farm and bringing in his cattle into the disputed piece of land pending the finalisation of the matter.
Justice Musakwa said Connolly was in occupation of gazetted land, which was compulsorily acquired by the state in 2000.
In discharging the provisional order, Justice Musakwa said although Connolly has not been charged for unlawful occupation of the disputed farm, he had no right to remain on the property.
The judge also blasted government officials, among them the Deputy Minister of Agriculture Paddy Zhanda, for “legitimising” Connolly’s occupation of the farm through their frequent visits to encourage him to continue with his farming activities. “It matters not that the applicant has received covert encouragement from government officials. In fact, it was duplicitous of those government officials to have given the applicant such false hope without ensuring he’s issued with a legal permit to remain on the land,” said Justice Musakwa.
Connolly, through his lawyers Webb Low and Barry, argued that since the acquisition of the farm he has been in peaceful and undisturbed occupation of the property and productively utilising the land.
Ndhlukula, through his lawyer Gerald Mlotshwa of GN Mlotshwa and Company, said Connolly failed to establish a clear right to the land. He said the farm belonged to him, arguing that he had an offer letter from the Lands and Rural Settlement Minister Douglas Mombeshora.
In March last year, Connolly celebrated a short-lived victory after the Bulawayo High Court ordered Ndhlukula off the farm and subsequently sentenced him to a suspended 90-day jail term on condition that he complied with the order issued in 2014 within 14 days.