BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA/BLESSED MHLANGA
THE Zanu PF government, stung by public outcry and a recent court ruling which annulled its planned mass eviction of Chilonga villagers in Chiredzi, has come up with a subtle ploy to pursue the matter using a “refashioned statutory instrument”.
On February 26, government promulgated SI 50 of 2021, ordering the villagers to vacate their ancestral land to pave way for a lucerne production project by Dendairy, a company based in Kwekwe.
The SI read: “Communal Land (Excision of Land) (Notice, 2021): His Excellency, the President, in terms of section 6(1)(b) of the Communal Land Act [Chapter 20:04], hereby makes the following notice:— 1. This notice may be cited as the Communal Land (Excision of Land) Notice, 2021. 2. The area of land described hereunder in terms of the schedule shall cease to be part of the Chiredzi Communal Land.”
The area covers 12 940 hectares.
But a Masvingo magistrate on Saturday ruled against the planned evictions.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba yesterday tweeted on his @Jamwanda2 handle that government would soon issue a “refashioned statutory instrument” on the Chilonga
“Lucerne growing is a small part of the development plan of the affected area. The plan is far-flung and involves irrigation of over 200 000 hectares under thousands of centre pivots, all for crop, fruit and beef production. Those wishing to diss (dismiss) the project do so by presenting it as a one-item affair, which it isn’t.”
He added: “They also predicate it on the coming in of an outsider as a fodder grower forgetting the bulk of the plan is State-involved and funded or the development of community and country! Anyway, there will be complete communication from government, both by a comprehensive statement and a refashioned statutory instrument.”
Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Ezra Chadzamira was quoted in the State media as saying: “We have a few homes that will have to be moved as part of the reorganisation that will take place as new developments take shape in the area, but these affected people will still be resettled in the same area because we want them all to benefit from the project as lucerne grass outgrowers.”
But MDC Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti yesterday told NewsDay that government could not amend an SI, adding that the correct procedure would be to repeal it.
“There is nothing like a refashioned statutory instrument. They simply have to repeal SI 50 of 2021, which took away land ownership rights of the Chilonga people. They cannot amend a statutory instrument,” Biti said.
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika said SI 50 of 2021 was unlawful and could not be amended.
“Government should correct that through wide consultations which are centred on the villagers themselves. They can only take away the land through an informed consent of the Chilonga people and in this case, the villagers do not want to give up their land,” he said.
“That the farmers will be contracted as out-growers is mere propaganda aimed at sanitising the inhumane evictions. If the villagers are going to be contracted as out-growers, then no evictions should be done.”
Kika added that government had vast idle land, hence by targeting a habited area, it could suggest that it wanted the land for other purposes than lucerne farming.
Following the promulgation of the SI 50 of 2021, Local Government deputy minister Marian Chombo told Parliament that government had identified alternative land for the villagers.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the evictions were constitutional since the project was of national interest.
However, when contacted for comment over whether SI 50 of 2021 would be amended, as suggested in Charamba’s tweet, Ziyambi curtly said: “Just ask the Minister of Local Government, July Moyo”.
But Moyo said he could not immediately respond to questions by NewsDay as he was in a meeting.
Addressing a Press conference in Harare yesterday, Biti said government could not evict villagers willy-nilly without their consent.
He said over the weekend, the opposition MDC Alliance dispatched a five-member delegation on a fact-finding mission to Chilonga, and established that the villagers were arguing that the evictions were a replica of the Gukurahundi genocide of the 1980s, which claimed over 20 000 civilians in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.
“This is an extensive programme of displacement. Government is going to displace the villagers in three phases. The first one is of 12 000 villagers on
12 940 hectares of land. The villagers said they don’t want to give up their land. They are asking to be left alone. They are regarding the evictions as a continued onslaught on the people of the Nguni origin,” Biti said.
“They said Gukurahundi was targeted on people of Nguni origin. Chiadzwa also displaced the Ndau, who are of the Nguni community and now it is Chilonga for the lucerne project. They are also concerned that there are no plans by the government to relocate them. They don’t know where they would be settled if they are to be displaced. There should be a referendum for the land to give villagers the right to decide.”
He also urged government to expedite the devolution process to enhance self-governance in local authorities and curb abuse of minority tribes.