The Conollys: Ben Freeth’s open letter to Mugabe

Last herds of pedigree Hereford and Senepol cattle left in Zimbabwe under threat, may soon have to be slaughtered

Pedigree Hereford herd under threat in Matabeleland – updated open letter to President Mugabe

20 January 2016

Another crisis is looming in Matabeleland as the last herds of pedigree Hereford and Senepol cattle left in the country are once again under serious threat and will have to be slaughtered on 29 January unless urgent action is taken.

They are owned by commercial farmer Dave Conolly who, together with his farm workers and their families, was forced off his farm by Dr Ray Ndhlukula, Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and cabinet, in 2014. Dr Ndhlukula is preventing Mr Conolly from utilizing the unused water in his dam to keep his cattle alive and from growing fodder crops for the cattle. It has taken more than 80 years to breed this pedigree herd of Hereford cattle - suitable for Zimbabwe’s very specific conditions - and since the farm invasions, the loss of invaluable breeding stock has been catastrophic. 

The family have a picture of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother presenting the Bulawayo Agricultural Society’s 1,000 guinea floating trophy to Mr Conolly’s father in 1953 for the best bull on show – a pedigree Hereford bull. If the herds are slaughtered, all of their genetics - their irreplaceable gene pool - will be destroyed because Dr Ndhlukula is refusing to obey the law. (See attached photo, together with a copy below and the caption).

Ben has written an update on the situation in an open letter to President Mugabe (below).


Dear President Mugabe

We first met at a rally near Chegutu in the late 1990s after I had been asked to make an impromptu speech about the help that white commercial farmers were giving to black farmers. I spoke about how a piano has both black keys and white keys, and how when a great musician plays the piano he can create wonderful harmony by using all those keys.

I wish to write to you regarding the ongoing take-over of white-owned properties without legal process or compensation. It is creating tremendous disharmony in our country.

I bring to your attention as an example the Deputy Chief Secretary in your office, Dr Ray Ndhlukula, who, with his wife, is currently in the process of taking Centenary A Farm in Figtree, Matabeleland South.

As you may know, Dr Ndhlukula already has at least two farms. The first is a section of Vlakfontein farm with a good irrigation dam built by Mr Fred York, who used to own the farm. The second is a farm called Wilfred Hope where Dr Ndhlukula, I understand, does some chickens.

After Dr Ndhlukula arrived to take yet another farm, Centenary A farm, Mr David Conolly, the owner, obtained an order from the High Court of Zimbabwe to prevent Dr Ndhlukula from taking over the farm without following proper legal process. Instead, Dr Ndhlukula and his wife have chosen to ignore the High Court order, take control of the police, and take the law into their own hands. I was at the Figtree police station when Dr Ndhlukula had all of Mr Conolly’s farm workers evicted from their houses on the farm – men and women who with their families had been on the farm for decades and are now treated like animals, left with no homes or jobs.

Dr Ndhlukula stopped all production on Mr Conolly’s farm. Consequently, the crop of 300,000 onions died and the 50,000 cabbage seedlings were not planted. The pump station had its locks broken and Dr Ndhlukula put his own locks on.

More critically, I would like to point out that in the current drought, Mr Conolly has been prevented by Dr Ndhlukula from being allowed to use the unused water in the dam to keep his cattle alive. He has the last pedigree herd of Hereford cattle in Zimbabwe and the last pedigree herd of Senepol cattle which, if he is not allowed back onto his farm to grow fodder crops, will have to go to slaughter. It has taken more than 80 years to breed this pedigree herd of Hereford cattle - suitable for Zimbabwe’s very specific conditions - and since the farm invasions, the loss of invaluable breeding stock has been catastrophic. The family have a picture of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother presenting the Bulawayo Agricultural Society’s 1,000 guinea floating trophy to Mr Conolly’s father in 1953 for the best bull on show – a pedigree Hereford bull.

The dairy herd is booked for slaughter on the 29th January 2016. All of their genetics - their irreplaceable gene pool - will be destroyed because Dr Ndhlukula is refusing to obey the law!

As if the above is not enough, Dr Ndhlukula instructed the police, the District Administrator and members of the Lands Committee to tell David Conolly’s brother, Mike Conolly, to leave his farm which is the next door property. Mike was told that the reason that he had to vacate his property was that his brother, David Conolly, had gone to court.

Even though subversion of the rule of law has been going on for so long, I still find it astounding that a policeman should tell a member of the public that it is a crime to go to court – but this is regrettably the reality in present-day Zimbabwe.

As you are aware, my father-in-law, Mike Campbell committed the “crime” of going to court, and later died after we were abducted and severely beaten two weeks prior to the main hearing of our landmark court case in the SADC Tribunal in Namibia.

It is with great sadness that we noted your decision to ignore the rulings of this highly respected regional court. After that, our homesteads on Mount Carmel farm and some of our workers’ homes were burnt down. All of our crops, tractors and other possessions were stolen. The farm is now unproductive, like so many others across our country – which is no longer able to feed itself.

It is an absolute tragedy for the 280 million people in southern Africa that you managed to manipulate the closing down of our regional court, so that no individual can approach that court when they have men like Dr Ndhlukula evicting people from their homes, creating unemployment, destroying production, and taking other people’s property in a completely lawless manner. So long as the people are not protected by the rule of law, we will continue to fail as a country.

Are you aware that starvation looms this year while thousands of dams, including our own and the Conollys’, lie unused for irrigation? If the law was being followed and High Court orders like the Conollys’ - and judgments like our one in the SADC Tribunal - were obeyed, we would be producing food for the nation; but simply because of the colour of our skin we are not allowed to! Such apartheid practices are wicked and wrong! Prior to the farm invasions, Zimbabwe was a respected exporter of agricultural produce. Now we face starvation every year if we do not import food. Property rights need to be established for all – and then the agricultural potential of Zimbabwe will be unleashed for all.

More than 99 percent of dispossessed farmers have been waiting desperately for compensation and have not yet been paid a cent. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of farm workers and their families now have no jobs and cannot send their children to school. Furthermore, the industries and the rest of the economy that depended on functioning commercial farms continue to collapse.

The kinds of lawless actions that continue to take place on the Conollys’ farm and all over the country could come straight out of the book of Kings where Naboth had his vineyard stolen through the lawlessness, covetousness and the greed of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. I encourage you to re-read that story in 1 Kings 21. It is of significance that it took place after the prophet Elijah had God show his power on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. Mike Campbell’s farm was also Mount Carmel.

In closing, I pray that you will do something about the lawlessness and greed that is ruining this previously productive country that you have been President of since 1980. The first gift God gave to the nation of Israel was the law. With the waiving of the law, destruction, disharmony and the reaping of the whirlwind will continue.

As a silent protest, Pastor Patrick Mugadza held up a placard at the ZANU PF congress last month which read: “Mr. President, your people are suffering.” He spent 17 nights in jail for having pointed this out to you. His trial – and that of the Zimbabwean people – continues...

Yours sincerely

Ben Freeth MBE