Land fraudsters masquerading as war vets dupe over 500 people

A gang of land fraudsters who allegedly masqueraded as war veterans and sold land to over 500 people seeking agricultural land around the small farming town of Banket in Mashonaland West are being hunted down.

Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Permanent Secretary Professor Obert Jiri yesterday urged the public to follow proper procedures when acquiring land, adding that Government would make sure the alleged perpetrators, only identified as Cdes Mpofu, Sigauke, Chiyangwa, Chimuti and Sister Nyamuziwa, none of whom hail from Mashonaland West, would be brought to book.

Prof Jiri said the five had formed three WhatsApp groups through which they would communicate with their victims who were made to part with various amounts ranging from US$1 000 up to US$10 000 for land of varying sizes of between 100 and 110 hectares.

The scam started as far back as 2018.

“We have 500 people who were duped in illegal land deals in Mashonaland West after being promised between 100 and 110 hectares. The people were put in WhatsApp groups for easy communication with some made to complete dubious forms purported to have been brought from the Ministry of Lands. Some paid as much as US$1 000.

“We have people from the Diaspora, who were also promised land and ordered to pay. This particular group was promised land between 2018 and 2019,” said Prof Jiri.

Some of the duped people recently approached the ministry seeking clarification on why they were not being allocated their land, said Prof Jiri, and with their information the ministry has exploded the con game and is now helping to hunt down the gang.

“So far over 500 individuals have realised that they have been taken for a ride. They cannot identify the ringleaders and some of them do not even know the ringleaders but we have identified the names of these ringleaders,” he said.

A person who is seeking farm land must apply to the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development and fill in land application forms.

These forms are distributed to the provincial offices and thereafter the applicants will be considered at the district office level.

From there they go to the provincial office.

Those considered are taken to the Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution for recommendation of allocation. That is the general procedure which any farm seeker must follow.

Prof Jiri indicated that land issues are only dealt with at his ministry and they do not use agents.

“The ministry does not make you pay for anything. If you apply for land, the ministry does not make you pay any facilitatory fees for you to be considered for land. While your accreditation is pending, the ministry does not make you pay for anything,” he said.

The only money that people pay is when they are allocated land.

A1 farmers pay US$20 per year in foreign currency or equivalent in local currency. A2 farmers pay US$3 per hectare.

Before that there is no payment to anyone by a land applicant and the ministry does not run any agents in terms of land applications.

So anyone who is seen selling land and anyone who sees land being sold should immediately know that its fake.

Victims of the fraudulent scam in Banket told The Herald they had learnt the hard way that one needs to follow proper procedures when acquiring land.

Mr Mickel Sambo of Tynwald suburb in Harare urged other land seekers to follow procedures.

He said he paid US$150 to the Banket land scammers for some “administrative” issues.

“For the past two to three years we have been made to believe that we were about to be given offer letters by the ministry. We paid some money purported to be administrative fees to make sure that we get land.

“We paid that money and some fuel and subsistence fees for those who were pegging among other things. We thought it was going to be a two-week process. So we began to question ourselves about what was really transpiring because nothing was materialising. With the explanation that we got from the Permanent Secretary, we are gutted. From today I do not have hope but at least I now know what to do,” Mr Sambo said.

Mr Bernard Shumba of Warren Park 1 suburb said he was convinced that they would eventually get land.

“We had high hopes because we heard there were more land offers in Banket and so paid US$150. People were conned of a lot of money. I have hope of getting land one day. We have come to see the officials because the time frame is taking too long,” he said.

Government has also warned the public against resettling themselves on agricultural land saying the move will attract prosecution.

According to the Land Commission Act, it is a criminal offence in terms of the Gazetted Lands (Consequential Provisions) Act to occupy State land without lawful authority in the form of a permit, an offer letter or a lease.

In a recent notice, the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, Dr Anxious Masuka, said Government will not regularise those that settle themselves on State land without procedurally issued tenure documents adding that the full wrath of the law will be applied in such cases of illegal settlements.

He said land applications should be made to the provincial lands offices where applicants get list allocation numbers and applicants should use these numbers to track progress with their applications.

War veterans have a 20 percent quota and have a separate application register while youths have a 20 percent quota and a separate list.

Land applicants who are recommended for land allocation should wait to get tenure documents before occupying recommended pieces of land.

Recently, the ministry said all local authorities must, with immediate effect, cease the selling of communal and agricultural land.

So far 99 percent of the land has been distributed and the Government is targeting abandoned, underused land and farms that are idle.

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