At a time when all but a few hundred of Zimbabwe's white farmers have been kicked off their land, fugitive businessman Billy Rautenbach has been handed a vast tract in the south, left in trust by former Nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo to develop black agriculture.
Some black farmers there claim Rautenbach has interfered with their ranching and is trying to push them out.
This was revealed in a documentary in the Dispatches slot on Britain's Channel 4 last Monday.
The film also shows how a British company, Camec plc, whose chairman is former Test cricketer Phil Edmonds, was involved in mining deals in Zimbabwe which the Movement for Democratic Change claims funded Zanu-PF violence during the election period last year.
Rautenbach is a major shareholder in the opaque shareholdings of Camec, which has periodically talked up its share price in London and made some public statements about operations which contradicted the reality. Its assets are far fewer than regularly reported in the British press, and at present it has only one which is active, in Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Rautenbach is on the US and EU sanctions list, which means he cannot travel there nor can citizens of those countries trade with him, but he bankrolls some of Camec's activities in Zimbabwe, and uses a Camec-connected company's bank account at Jyske Bank, in British crown colony Gibraltar.
South Africa's prosecuting authority applied for Rautenbach's extradition from Zimbabwe more than two years ago for trial on massive customs fraud in SA, but this request was ignored by the former Zanu-PF government.
Rautenbach has just completed drilling tests in platinum sites in central Zimbabwe wrested from Anglo Platinum by the former government last year.
CAMEC CEO Andrew Groves, schooled in KwaZulu-Natal, confirmed the company had paid President Robert Mugabe $100 million (R7.9 billion) for the concessions which Anglo Plats was forced to hand over to protect the development of its platinum mine in central Zimbabwe.
It was this money, several top MDC leaders claim, which helped fund the election violence last year in which about 200 MDC supporters were killed and hundreds injured.
Extraordinarily, Rautenbach has been given access, via a majority share in a new company, Cutstar Investments (Pvt Ltd), to more than 300 000ha of Nuanetsi Ranch bought by Nkomo in 1989 and held in a trust to promote black agriculture.
Dozens of smaller-scale black ranchers have established herds of beef cattle on Nuanetsi and they told Channel 4 Rautenbach was harassing them. They claimed their operations were at risk, that their fences were torn down and their water supplies interrupted.
Rancher Moffat Ndou told Channel 4 journalist Aidan White: "We were invited to a meeting at (Nuanetsi) ranch headquarters. At this meeting we had Billy Rautenbach, we had the managing director of Nuanetsi ranch and we were then informed that Nuanetsi ranch had got into a joint venture.
"He (Rautenbach) said (to us) 'what part of f**k off do you not understand?'"
Another rancher, Terry Mkowa, also resisting eviction efforts, said: "He (Rautenbach says he is well-connected... you cannot do anything to me. I am a powerful man."
The pro-Zanu-PF Sunday Mail ran a full front page on July 19 headlined "Mega bucks project", which claimed a mystery investor was pumping $1 billion into Nuanetsi and part of the development would be the establishment of 100 000ha of sugar cane to be turned into ethanol to reduce Zimbabwe's fuel bill.
However, water experts say there is not enough water to support so much sugar. "Even if all local water available was dammed, there wouldn't be nearly enough, so this project is just talk," said a veteran farmer.
Rautenbach is the "mystery investor". He went into the DRC to take over state mining company Gecamines when Mugabe's troops entered the war there in 1998, but was sacked by late DRC president Laurent Kabila, who accused him of stealing the state's share of the cobalt joint venture.
After Kabila's assassination, Rautenbach went on to develop a cobalt site given to him by the DRC, but was deported two years ago. He sold his DRC assets to CAMEC and continues to run its one cobalt mining project from Harare, say some of his staffers.
CAMEC says it has frozen Rautenbach's shareholding in the company, because Rautenbach is on the sanctions list, but its operations in Zimbabwe, at least in platinum drilling, are organised by Rautenbach and financed from the Yske Bank account in Gibraltar, belonging to one of its subsidiaries.
The results of the drilling of Anglo Plats's former concessions produced predictably good results, but mining insiders say it would take several years and hundreds of millions of rands of investment before CAMEC could produce any platinum.
Rautenbach claims he has made good contacts with the MDC since the formation of the inclusive government. Two important members, Finance Minister Tendai Biti and deputy agriculture minister designate, Roy Bennett, don't seem to agree.
"What I know of him is not complimentary. I wouldn't want to be his friend."
Bennett added: "There has to be an audit of everything. Every single ministry within Zimbabwe has to be audited and basically it needs to be done in a transparent and open manner. Any dealings that are transparent and open for the benefit of the country and benefit of the people of Zimbabwe will be honoured.
"But any deals that can be seen to have political patronage or political involvement definitely will be undone."
He confirmed this would apply to CAMEC as well.
South African prosecutors believe they have proof that Rautenbach attempted to have charges against him withdrawn, or reduced, by sending one of his emissaries with $45 000 to former police commissioner Jackie Selebi.
This was contained in an affidavit made by Glen Agliotti, accused of murdering SA mining magnate Brett Kebble.
South African prosecutors have in the past year met Rautenbach in three countries to discuss a possible plea bargain.
Rautenbach tells associates in Zimbabwe that he met the South Africans to discuss dropping charges.
Channel 4 gave both Rautenbach and Edmonds the opportunity to answer questions. Both declined. - Independent Foreign Service
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