BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA/GARIKAI MAFIRAKUREVA/ARNOLD FANDISO
GOVERNMENT yesterday said it had identified land to resettle the over 12 000 families displaced by a lucerne farming project in Chilonga, Chiredzi.
Local Government minister July Moyo last Friday issued Statutory Instrument (SI) 50 of 2021 (Communal Land Setting Aside of Land (Chiredzi, Notice 2021), to forcibly remove them from the area.
The move will result in the displacement of around 12 538 families from Chiredzi East and South constituencies.
Local Government deputy minister Marian Chombo was yesterday grilled by opposition MPs over the displacements of villagers to make way for the grass farming project.
Harare East MP Tendai Biti (MDC Alliance) asked her to explain why the villagers’ ancestral land was being offered to white farmers at the expense of minority groups.
“As for the relocation of people, what happens is that the ministry (Local Government) in conjunction with the Ministry of Lands identifies land and places that are suitable for accommodating people. Right now, we are in the drive to boost our agriculture, and so if we realise that some of the land being occupied as residential areas is suitable for agriculture, we introduce those statutory instruments to make sure that we do justice,” Chombo said.
“As a matter of fact, whenever we relocate people, we first identify some areas where it is suitable to move them to before we relocate them.”
Biti further asked her to explain government policy used to take the communal land.
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi then came to Chombo’s rescue and told the House that the project was of national interest.
“Communal land is vested in the President, and even if you have land with title deeds, when there is a project of national interest, the President can cause it to be gazetted, and you will be relocated,” he said.
“It’s not true that people were evicted. If there is a national project that is suitable in a communal area, there is nothing that stops the President from doing that, this means that these people will be relocated somewhere.”
Lucerne grass, also called alfalfa, is used for making hay or animal fodder.
Dendairy, a private milk producer, is said to be eyeing approximately 10 000 hectares of arable land for the lucerne project meant for local and international markets.
Meanwhile, MDC Alliance secretary for local government, Sesel Zvidzai said this was not the first time that government had arbitrarily evicted villagers without compensation or the provision of suitable alternative shelter and livelihoods.
“We stand with the people of Chilonga. We condemn the proposed eviction. SI 50 of 2021 is unconstitutional, invalid and of no force and effect as it violates sections 71, 74, 51 and 53 of the Constitution. This model of rural development is anti-poor and inhumane. It should be rejected and resisted. The authorities should be sensitive to the needs of the poor and implement policies that put the people first,” Zvidzai said.
It is alleged that some of the beneficiaries of the project are Dendairy managing director Darren Coetzee and his business partner, Paul Kruger, who is the managing director of Agrico.
They are believed to be Moyo’s allies and business partners in another lucerne farming project in Kwekwe.
“It has been a decade since the government displaced the people of Chingwizi. They are living under uninhabitable conditions with no sustainable livelihoods. This callous approach to people’s land rights and cultural heritage should never be repeated,” Zvidzai said.