Land grabs by means of covid endangerment – a cautionary tale by Chuck Stephens [UPDATED with interview]

We all remember the devastating consequences of land grabs in Zimbabwe. In this article, Chuck Stephens, Executive Director at Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership and a popular columnist at BizNews, states that ‘we are starting to see reruns of those horrible scenes.’ Stephens tells a chilling story about his own arrest and “three-night special” in jail over the past weekend. As a 70 year old man, Stephens objectively falls into the minority of those who are vulnerable to severe illness from Covid-19. Throwing him into an overcrowded jail cell – with no charge sheet and having been denied the right to make a statement – is therefore, surely, reckless. Stephens believes that it was brought about by a man with a fierce grudge against whom he won a court case relating to property ownership earlier this year. He believes that land grabs are happening and that ‘covid endangerment’ is the weapon being used, stating that; ‘there are forces out there that want your land no matter what they have to do to get it – including some policemen.’ His story is provided as a cautionary tale, a testament to the accounts of the past weekend in case of his death. BizNews founder Alec Hogg interviewed Stephens about his experience earlier this week, excerpts of which are below his article. – Nadya Swart

Zimbabwe scenarios using Covid endangerment instead of guns

By Chuck Stephens*

Off-beat, in-sync, on mark, out of Africa 

I have lived in Southern Africa since 1982, in Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique. And now for 26 years in South Africa. I didn’t want to live in South Africa before the first free and democratic elections were held. Since then, I have worked feverishly to try to improve conditions for youth. 

So I can well remember the land grab scenarios of the early 1990s. Even a Canadian friend of mine was not spared, although he had none of the attitudes of former Rhodesians. He started a flower farm near Harare and at first it thrived. Then they forced him out of the country and seized it. Why am I starting in Zimbabwe and not South Africa? Because here in Mpumalanga Province, we are starting to see reruns of those horrible scenes. Even though this very month, the government of Zimbabwe has allocated $1 million to pay those white farmers for their losses. Because they want them to return!  

What Mugabe did to them was déjà vu of what Idi Amin did to Ugandan Asians. He knocked out a whole layer in the economy, and did permanent harm to Uganda’s economy.

This introduction sets the scene for what has happened to me in Mpumalanga Province in recent years. This weekend there was a ugly scene. About 4 pm on Friday, the police came to the C4L campus and arrested me. They did not give me any details, and would not allow me to write a statement. Thus starts the “three-night special” in jail. Because the Law says that you can only be held for 48 hours – but if you snafu someone late enough on a Friday, it runs over to the first working day after the 48 hours expires.

Today I arrived in court and I still didn’t not receive a charge sheet, but I was told to return next week. I could only make an educated guess, because the standard form they gave me mentioned “Violation of a Protection Order”. And there is only one of these. Because this case is now SUB JUDICE, I have to leave any details about it out.

Suffice it to say that the man who opened the case works at the Premier’s Office. He has been there for 23 years and has reached a managerial position. And he is absolutely furious that earlier this year, on April 21st, another Magistrate decided a long-awaited case in our favour. That case is now closed, so I can talk about it a bit.

It pertains to a house on our campus that an ex-tenant claimed to have bought. We disagreed, and it took five years to reach trial on February 19th 2021. Two months later, the case was decided in our favour.

This is where the Zimbabwe scenarios are reminiscent. They don’t care what the magistrate says, they will not give up the house. I have tried various approaches to get them to back off. No way. They are South African nationals, and they don’t like “makwerekwere” like me winning cases in court. To them, that just shows that the courts are somehow biased in favour of the minority, against the majority, which is ludicrous.

So how do you take out a Canadian missionary? It is called COVID ENDANGERMENT.

The police knew that the jail already had 17 people in this 4m x 8m cell. Cheek by jowl. No masking, no social distancing. And these guys were very religious and enjoyed singing at the top of their lungs in the evening, in the confined space. Didn’t someone tell them that you can go to church, but you can’t sing because the exhaling can be dangerous.

Another facet was curious – of these 18 people there were only white South Africa citizens and foreigners. Not one of them was a black citizen. Given our demography, what are the chances of that happening? What is going on?

So I was locked up (not locked down) in this jail. I found that 13 of my new friends were Mozambicans. We became friends quickly because I happen to be fluent in Portuguese. Three of these 13 were very sick with deep coughs. They have been locked up for over a month this way. And on this very same weekend, we returned to Alert-Level 4. Not in the jail, I can assure you.

My take on this is that my adversary got so frustrated at losing case after case in court (nine out of twelve cases won, the other four still pending – over six years), that he colluded with some police officers to expose me to Covid-19. I am seventy years old, very vulnerable to this disease. We have seen police officers colluding with this fellow before – even cutting the chain on our campus gate, to get him inside. But I cannot digress into the content of the current cases, because they are SUB JUDICE, including the new one that he launched on Friday last week.

All I can do is point out that COVID ENDANGERMENT is illegal. It is similar to the Law on AIDS ENDANGERMENT in our previous pandemic. To knowingly expose someone to the virus without warning them of your status is a crime. Of course the “woke” thinkers don’t want it that way. But that is the way that Law stands. Not just in South Africa, but in many countries.

Remember the story of Fish Mahlalela? He was a target of AIDS ENDANGERMENT. History is repeating itself.

I will look into laying charges of attempted murder at this man from the Premier’s Office and the police officers involved. I am recording this narrative so that if I die of Covid next month, in the midst of our Third Wave, you will know how I contracted it. My friends can attest to how careful I have been since March 2020 to self-isolate and to work from home.

But there are forces out there that want your land no matter what they have to do to get it. Including some policemen. As far as I can tell, both our police precinct and our magistrate’s court are “for sale”.

To my way of thinking, the criminal syndicate that wants to occupy a house that belongs to us at any cost, has their tentacles into the local police force and into the local Judiciary. Whoever reads the newspapers knows about this.

My story of this past weekend is a cautionary tale. Please be careful and don’t be naïve. Land is a target and if they have to take you out to get their hands on YOUR LAND, they will. This focus has become pathological, and I fear the worst for my own health.

Chuck Stephens on the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership:

It’s a South African registered charity or nonprofit organisation. It was registered, I think, over 20 years ago. We got the permission of the archbishop emeritus to use his name. The focus has been on youth development or youth empowerment training. 

On the dispute that landed him in jail:

Well, we had an ongoing dispute over one of the houses on our campus which was rented out. And about five years ago, when the tenant left, she refused to return the keys to the house and then she started renting it out, subletting it, and she claimed that she owned the house. And we disputed that and said, obviously, we have the papers for owning the house. You can’t have two people owning it. And so she started a civil case and we said, fine, we’ll answer and we did.

But this has dragged on for about five years – sub judice – waiting and waiting. But what we found that they did over this five year period was that they used the delays in bringing the case to court, to introduce all sorts of other harassment, if I can call it that. 

On land grabs in South Africa:

All I can say is that, you know, this thing is exactly as irrational as that story from Zimbabwe. And I was sort of at a distance watching what happened in Zimbabwe some time ago. But, you know, land has become – I don’t know what to call it – it’s just a huge issue, symbolic issue, I guess, is the way to put it. And it seems that the rule of law is not happening. In fact, the courts, as far as I can see it, tend to sympathise with people not based on the merits of the case, but based on their skin colour. Those are very frank words, but I took a hiding over the weekend for this and I will be back in court next week to defend the issues.

I shouldn’t talk about the exact issues because it’s sub judice right this week, as I said. But I’m quite confident that it will be dismissed. And it’s about the (I can’t remember) maybe the 10th or 12th case that these people have brought against us in different kinds of complaints and it’s to us it’s just harassment. But the issue is [that] they see it as their land, and I’m a foreigner. You know, what am I doing here? 

I think the problem is visceral, so deep – that I think even the lawyers and the other people involved are just handling it with kid gloves. Because they know what the law says and they know what’s written in the order from the court, but they know that people will go for land. So, you know, you have to be careful. 

On the flawed judicial system in South Africa:

There’s a number of people, probably four or five, operating together to try and take resources and take assets from our company, from our NGO. They’ve got their own reasons for that. I’m not sure that I even understand what they are, but I believe they’re operating that way. And the problem is that when you go to the police or when you go even to the magistrate and say, you know, ‘we’re being intimidated, we’re being bullied and we’re trying to be fair, be patient and do things through the structures and not take the law into our own hands…’ There’s what I call implicit bias. You know, the system defends the majority and the minority of people; you’re white, I’m also white – but I’m a foreigner and I’m quite a bit older.

So I look at the ways that many of these things can be defined as discrimination against someone who’s old, someone who’s a foreigner, ‘makwerekwere’, they say, who comes from wherever and lands and spends some time and then goes back. But that’s what we’re called. And so I think that the law is not strong enough to stand up to these syndicates and in fact, what I believe happened, I strongly suspect that the police colluded with one of these people on Friday last week. To arrest me so that I would be spending three nights in jail on one of these weekend specials, not able to go before a magistrate until Monday. 

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