Phillip and Anita Rankin remain under siege - Ben Freeth

Zimbabwean farmer besieged by Dr Sylvester Nyatsuro's thugs appeals to be left alone to farm in peace for the betterment of district, province and nation

Zimbabwean farmer remains under siege from British doctor’s invaders

A Zimbabwean farmer and his wife, Phillip and Anita Rankin, remain under siege from thugs who have surrounded their farmhouse at the instigation of a British citizen, Dr Sylvester Nyatsuro (45) from Nottingham, who is attempting to take over the farm and its US$360,000 tobacco crop.

In defending the actions of Dr Nyatsuro, who was originally born in Zimbabwe, his law firm in the UK, Freeths LLP Solicitors, told the Nottingham Post that Dr Nyatsuro was taking possession of the Rankins’ farm lawfully.

According to the Nottingham Post’s article of October 21, 2015, the statement released by the solicitors reads:  “Dr Nyatsuro became eligible to take possession of a farm in Zimbabwe in a lawful manner in full accordance with the requirements of the Government’s Minister of Land and Rural Settlement.”

The statement continues:  “This means that he had to wait several years before becoming eligible to take the area of land in question.  There is no question of Dr Nyatsuro being given undue preference.”

The latter point refers to media reports which suggest that Dr Nyatsuro and his wife, Veronica, have links to President Mugabe’s powerful wife, Grace Mugabe who has herself taken over a number of commercial farms from their lawful owners, forcing both the farmers and their workers off the land.

The solicitors correctly denied that Dr Nyatsuro, who owns a weight-loss clinic in Nottingham, had visited the farm on October 9, but confirmed that other family members had gone to the property.

Their statement reads: “In fact, he (Dr Nyatsuro) was in the UK on that date. Whilst other members of his family attended, accompanied by a lands officer and two police officers, there was no ‘gang’ present, no violence or intimidation of any sort occurred on that date, and the police were on hand to ensure that there was no inappropriate behaviour.”

Clearly, the solicitors are not aware that the Nyatsuro invasion had many witnesses. The reality is that invaders forced their way onto the property against Rankin’s will. 

They were indeed supplied with a police escort onto the farm, but it is well known that President Mugabe’s partisan police have been party to innumerable invasions since 2000 and that they are instructed not to follow the law in cases like this, or even court orders. 

The Zimbabwean police have in fact been at the forefront of the break-down of the rule of law in the country. 

If they fail to obey orders, they face disciplinary action, demotion or dismissal, which is unthinkable in this once thriving country where unemployment now exceeds 90 percent as a direct result of the rule of law breakdown.

Deteriorating health

A week after the farm stand-off began, Rankin’s son reported that his parents were under siege and struggling to get food onto the farm as they were unable to leave.  Rankin also suffers from high blood pressure and heart problems are prevalent in his family.

On Wednesday October 21, 2015, two weeks after the initial invasion, the threatening farm invaders who were brought out to the property by Mrs Nyatsuro are still there. 

“If a group of thugs forced their way onto a property in the UK and had the owners under siege for weeks on end, a British law firm would never defend such criminal activity,” said Ben Freeth, the Harare-based spokesperson for legal watchdog SADC Tribunal Rights Watch.  (Freeth has no connection with Freeths LLP Solicitors.)

“It is a matter of grave concern that a UK law firm is prepared to defend actions which blatantly violate human rights and which would never be acceptable in Britain,” continued Freeth.

“It is also concerning that the solicitors have not researched the situation with regard to the 15-year-long, brutal farm invasions and the illegality of President Mugabe’s land nationalisation programme,” he said.

SADC Tribunal human rights court rulings

SADC Tribunal Rights Watch recommends that Dr Nyatsuro’s lawyers read the judgment handed down in the landmark Campbell case in the Southern African Development Community’s SADC Tribunal human rights court, the region’s highest court, in November 2008.

Ruling 1:  With respect to the legality of white-owned commercial farms being taken over without compensation being paid by the Zimbabwe government, the Tribunal ruled that that this was illegal.

“Taking something without paying for it cannot be legal in any jurisdiction.  Such an action is commonly known as ‘theft’.  A firm of solicitors cannot condone or justify theft, wherever it is taking place,” said Freeth.

Freeth also pointed out that Dr Nyatsuro and his British lawyers will be well aware that the Zimbabwe Government will not pay for the farm and that Rankin and his workers will be left destitute. 

The Zimbabwe government has not budgeted any funds for compensation for the thousands of farms it has taken over during the past 15 years, thus destroying the lives and livelihoods of thousands of commercial farmers and hundreds of thousands of farm workers.

In fact, the economy is in such a state of crisis that President Mugabe is even struggling to pay his secret police, the feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), which has played a critical role in ensuring that his increasingly unpopular regime retains power.   

As beneficiaries of President Mugabe’s complex patronage system, CIO operatives, together with senior ranking army, air force and police personnel, have frequently been among the many the high profile recipients of productive white-owned commercial farms.

Those who claim that Zimbabwe’s commercial farms, with their sophisticated infrastructure and world-class yields, have been taken from white commercial farmers to give to “landless blacks” would do well to inspect the lists of high profile beneficiaries that have been published in the media.

Ruling 2:  The SADC Tribunal also ruled that the ouster clause added to the Zimbabwean Constitution, which allows the Zimbabwe Government to take a farm at a stroke of a pen without any legal recourse for the owner, was not legal or according to the rule of law. 

“No country in the world has a constitution with such a draconian ‘anti-property rights’ clause,” said Freeth. 

“Further to this clause in our constitution, if the farm owner does not vacate his land within a stipulated period, he can be arrested and given a two-year jail term for committing the crime of living in his home and farming in a country that is starving.  I fail to see how Dr Nyatsuro’s legal firm can condone this as a legal process’,” commented Freeth.       

Ruling 3:  The SADC Tribunal also ruled that the racist nature of the land grab was illegal. 

In Zimbabwe, the sole characteristic for the identification of land to be taken over is based on race.  Rankin therefore, even though he is a Zimbabwean and bought his farm three years after independence with the approval of the Mugabe government, has his home and livelihood under threat for the simple reason that he is white. 

Rankin’s farm is being confiscated by the Zimbabwe Government and offered to Dr Nyatsuro because Rankin is white and Nyatsuro is black. However, Dr Nyatsuro is British, is permanently resident in Britain, and is not a farmer.  Dr Nyatsuro’s law firm cannot condone the racism which, on the scale of the brutal and prolonged farm grab, essentially amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Zimbabwe government in contempt of court

When the Zimbabwe government refused to abide by the SADC Tribunal rulings, the Tribunal found the government to be contempt of court. 

In response, in an unprecedented and illegal move, the Mugabe Government was instrumental in getting the entire court closed down - with the support of the SADC heads of state - so that no further cases could be heard.

Virtually all of the cases heard by the Tribunal involved the violation of human rights democracy and the rule of law, and were brought against the Mugabe government. 

Not surprisingly, the government lost every single case, including a high profile torture case, known as the Gondo case, in which black Zimbabweans were the victims of the regime’s brutality.

“Despite the highly contested closure of southern Africa’s highest court - as Dr Nyatsuro’s law firm will understand – this does not nullify its judgments in anyway,” said Freeth.

“Indeed, a costs award against the Zimbabwe government resulting from the registration of the SADC Tribunal’s 2008 judgment in South Africa led to one of the Mugabe government’s houses in Cape Town being auctioned off on September 21 this year in order to settle the outstanding award,” Freeth said.

SADC Tribunal Rights Watch condemns the continued invasion of the Rankins’ farm by Dr Nyatsuro and recommends that Dr Nyatsuro immediately pays off and removes the thugs who continue to surround the Rankins’ house.

Furthermore, we recommend that Dr Nyatsuro advises those who have authorised his attempted take-over of the farm that he is withdrawing from this illegal take-over, and that Rankin must be allowed to continue farming in peace for the benefit his family, his workers and the cash-strapped country.



“If at all possible by you, live at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18

We did not ask for this, nor did we start it.  If any errors have been made, may they be reversed and rectified.  We humbly ask that this time of uncertainty come to an end.  We do not wish to hurt anyone’s lives or livelihood the way we have been hurt.  Whilst there must be accountability there is always room for forgiveness.  All we wish for is to be left alone to farm in peace for the betterment of our district, province and nation.

Thank you and God bless us all. 

Phillip Rankin

Statement issued by Ben Freeth – Spokesperson, SADC Tribunal Rights Watch, 22 October 2015