BY REX MPHISA

GOVERNMENT officials in Matabeleland South province allegedly allocated themselves cattle under the Command Livestock programme at the expense of smallholder farmers targeted by the multi-million dollar State project.

The project is designed to rebuild the dwindling national herd and reinvigorate the ailing beef industry, once one of Zimbabwe’s economic pillars.

The allocation on November 30 this year raised eyebrows, with farmers calling for a government probe.

“The entire list of beneficiaries must be looked at. It is fraught with favouritism and corrupt
distributions from the beginning,” a villager from a resettlement farm near Zhovhe Dam in Beitbridge West alleged.

“The few farmers given those cattle during the launch by President Emmerson Mnangagwa were just to hoodwink the Executive. What was done after their departure is something else.”

His statement was corroborated by some civil servants who alleged that officials largely benefited from the allocation.

Some senior Zimbabwe National Army members supervising Command Agriculture expressed their displeasure about the beneficiaries list, saying the common man had been robbed.

“We queried this list, it’s a public fact that we did,” one of the members, a high ranking soldier, said.

Beitbridge senior Agritex officers, an officer of an non-governmental organisation called Progress, a council worker whose father works in Vice-President Kembo Mohadi’s office, a disc jockey, a groundsman at the district development co-ordinator (DDC)’s office, resettled farmers Netsai Gumbo, Ophias Ndlovu, a retired clerk from the DDC’s office, Alfred Moyo, and Elphas Siziba are some of the 23 farmers known to have benefited.

Selected senior government officials and individuals got six beasts each on the poorly advertised distribution date, attended by a handful of people.

Matabeleland South provincial livestock officer Hatitye Zondai, whose office was tasked with distributing the Matabeleland South cattle, said there were no anomalies, but denied NewsDay sight of the November 30 list.

“Do you have the master register/waiting list of all beneficiaries on the register as to who qualifies? You should get the programme document and understand it. Everything was done above board by the district command committee. The programme can give up to 10 (cattle) per beneficiary,” Zondai said.

“You have already fingered those two. Are there any other names that you want because honestly, will it be right for someone to see his or her name in the paper without his or her consent?

“The programme does not restrict anyone. It has some guidelines and requirements to follow as long as you meet those requirements as a farmer. Whether you are a civil servant or from any organisation or political party, it doesn’t matter. What we want is production and potential even journalists’ institutions benefited.”

Villagers, particularly in Beitbridge, where over 2 000 cattle have succumbed to a punishing drought, are unhappy that civil servants allegedly distributed cattle to themselves, defeating the purpose of the noble exercise.

“(Officials) claim that some farmers from as far as Chikwarakwara failed to come, and the cattle had to be distributed,” one farmer said.

Beneficiaries were issued with permits to drive cattle to red zones since the farm at which the cattle were kept was under quarantine.

Provincial veterinary officer for Matabeleland South, Enat Mdlongwa, refused to talk about the beneficiaries, electing only to speak about his departmental role.

“We have issued permits for the cattle to go to red zones area. No cattle should be moved to the green zone,” he said.

“I don’t want to say anything or be involved in who benefited. That is not my area,” he said when asked why civil servants allocated themselves and their friends cattle.

He said pressing shortages of livestock feed forced the farmer keeping the cattle to ask for earlier distribution.

“I do not want to be involved in the distribution issues. That is not our area and let’s keep it there,” Mdlongwa stressed.

Mnangagwa launched the Command Livestock programme in Gwanda in June last year.

Initially, he handed over 660 heifers to 151 beneficiaries from Matabeleland South’s seven districts.

Several factors, including animal diseases, restricted the distribution of cattle soon after the launch.

Under the programme, a farmer is supposed to receive three bulled heifers which they pass on after two years.