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We remain the land: The endless land wars of Chipinge

07 Oct 2020 at 18:10hrs | Views
To many Zimbabweans, the forecast that there will be normal to above normal rains in 2020-21 farming is sweet news. However, this does not apply to many people in Chipinge.

While others are preparing for the season, they are busy planning to secure plan B in the event that someone comes to claim the land they are settled on.

This is the tragic circumstance of their life.

While we all agree that life without the land is inadequate. A considerable number of families have been subject to land displacements rendering their lives to be incomplete, insufficient and without full humaness.

According to the late Robert Gabriel Mugabe you cannot separate an African from the land. The land defines them, they're their land. This has not been the case to some citizens living in the part of Zimbabwe called Chipinge.

The people of Chipinge have endured the most punishing and humiliating tragectory of displacements over the years.

Cases and cases of land wars and disputes have been reported much to the disadvantage of the common people.

Land evictions in Zimbabwe seems to follow a certain pattern, they are usually done soon after elections or in the years where elections do not take place.

The Chipinge story is one of the most intriguing narrative of a people who are endlessly victims of displacements.

Over the years a perpetual decimation of land and property rights has reduced people to squatters.

The story of Chisumbanje ethanol fuel project in Chipinge is one of the most bitter developments that resulted in thousands of villagers being displaced to pave way for a sugar plantation so that thousands of hectares of land space could be created for the ethanol-producing project, consequently displacing poor villagers.

The 40,000 hectare sugar cane plantation which started in 2008 left more than 1,754 households displaced, according to Platform for Youth Development a Chipinge based Civic Society organization.

Unverified reports suggests that over 20 Zimbabwean families who were displaced by the ethanol project crossed the border and settled in Mozambique's Manica province.

In yet another painstaking obtaining on 29 April 2019 villagers from Munyokowere were served with eviction notices by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement.

The eviction notices gave at least 750 villagers seven days to vacate the land they had been occupying since the early 1990.

Platform for Youth Development, a community based organization that operates in Chipinge reported that it was dismayed by the eviction notices.

According to PYD the government displayed a penchant to use institutionalized intimidation in an environment where the communities might have little bargaining power to contest the evictions, as they often lack formal documentation of their customary land rights and access to justice.

Gatvol of the development PYD engaged the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) on behalf of the villagers to try and resolve the matter.  

ZHLR then engaged the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Settlement for conciliation.

"That some of our clients have been in occupation for a long period as such have built their livelihood, they have built their houses and they have minor children who cannot soldier the harsh winter." Read part of the letter to the government.

They stated that, "The state despite demand of request for offer letters has either failed or neglected to provide them with security of tenure."

The eviction notices are deemed to be necessitated by a 2018 Cabinet resolution on illegal settlers.

The cabinet resolved that all people found in farms without any offer letter, permit, lease or title deed are committing a crime in terms of the Lands Consequential Provisions Act Chapter 20:28.

"The cabinet resolution is admittance that there is rampant corruption in the land governance system and that the evictions are not structured but just a moment to punish some communities that did not vote for Zanu PF in the 2018 plebiscite."

The administration of the Lands Consequential Provisions Act Chapter 20:28 seemingly neglects the land rights of resettled villagers.

The Munyokowere villagers case dates back to the colonial era.

In the 1950s, they were forcibly evicted by the colonial government to pave way for the commercialization of Middle Sabi.

They the resettled back in the area in the early 1990s.

The resettled villagers the were a measly 39 families and the number has since grown to 750 families.

The then Chipinge District Administrator (DA) Mufukera formalized the villagers' settlement.

This move by the local authority heightened villagers' perceptions and expectation regarding the right to the land.

The manner and timing of the notice of eviction is likely to impact negatively on the villagers' food security and livelihoods

The absence of formal offer letters, permit, lease or title deed in the area clearly proved a glaring weak land governance system in Zimbabwe.

This seriously impair the land use rights of local people as they are not properly reflected in our domestic legal system.

Weak land governance systems have in many ways negatively affect local populations and their food security since they are exposed to political manipulation as is the case in Munyokowere village.

"This case from a face value can obscure important but masked socio – economic and political issues" suggested PYD.

"The political culture in Zimbabwe has created social inequities in rural communities and they are seemingly allowed to persist, and in the process violate the notion of social justice within the local context" they added.

"What they have done to the villagers is unjust and smacks of arbitrary authority from our government",

"The government must ensure that customary land rights are protected and leveraged against manipulation. is the same institution that is exposing vulnerable communities."

Munyokowere villagers' claim to the land evolve through the principle of kinship that was recognized by local government authorities including the then Local Government Deputy Minister Morris Sakabuya.

Distortions around customary ownership of land is the bedrock of the villagers' dilemma.

The eviction notices enunciated by the government make it clear that the presence of the villagers in Munyokowere since the early 1990s was a result of political patronage, as has been the case in most areas where displacements are done.

The false sense of security that the local political and administrative leadership provided to the Munyokowere villagers became an instrument for regulating access to communal land, and also determined the granting of rights.

This was done in the narrative of procuring and maintaining political support in the Middle Sabi.

PYD however, said "The government has to understand and interpret their laws in the context that the control of land is vested in an ancestry group and access is determined by social identity",

This particular defines our social identity as a people and we cannot be denied that identity." said PYD.

Headman  Munyokowere is one of the 750 villagers served with a notice to vacate the land, he bemoaned the fact that the government since the period of their resettlement failed to ensure that customary land rights are protected.

What is increasingly becoming clear is that land rights in Zimbabwe are not guaranteed, despite constitutional ring fences citizens remain land insecure.

In yet another case a Zimbabwe Republic Police top cop Godwin Chinyan'anya hounded eight families of Mutoramhene Southdown estate in Chipinge central ward 8.

Chinyan'anya hounded families off the farm on November 09 2019 after the expiry of a 7 day eviction order.

The families had been staying at the farm since 2002. They had made incessant attempts to regularise their occupation to no avail.

Some other cases include Farfel Estate where Remembrance Mbudzana son to Manicaland province Resident Minister Ellen Gwarazimba had to be stopped by a Cabinet order from forcefully hounding a farmer.

Recently there is a bitter land wrangle pitting Zanu PF Manicaland province Vice Chairperson

It is sad to note that at the writing of this piece Headman Munyokowere had succumbed to stress related ailments which developed when he was served eviction notice.

In yet another recent  development 50 Chipinge families were living in the open after they were evicted from Daff Jourbert's Anex Farm in Ward 11.

The 362 people including children and babies have endured heavy rains and chilly Chipinge weather since their homes were burnt down by the Police.

Zimbabwe like all the other African states has a legal obligation to protect villagers from losing their source of livelihood.

But the tragic truth is that the government appear to be using institutions to intimidate villagers out of their ancestral land.

It is tragic that the government fully aware that the villagers have little bargaining power to contest the evictions because they lack formal documentation of their customary land has not done anything to ring fence land rights and at least offer a lasting solution on land and property rights.

The government is lethargic on addressing the customary land rights. The grand question is why? Who benefits from such a lethargy?

What's enigmatic is that there has been no tentative response to arrest the situation. The more the legal redress the more the evictions.

If the issue is not addressed the land wars will not end. The common man will continue to be exposed to the ruthless law.

The Land Consequential Provisions Act has to be reconsidered so that it doesn't continue being abused against poor and defenceless people.

If a law does not favour the majority and the vulnerable such a law is not democratic. It has to be changed.

It is simply not good.

What's saddening is that the state assumes it's mandate to govern from the people,but when capital and political elites flex muscle the same state takes sides against the lenders of mandate.

The law must at all costs side with the people. The people of Chipinge must remain their land. Evictions and displacements must stop they're inhumane.

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Source - Taruberekera Masara in Pretoria
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