Following the promulgation of the Communal Land (Setting Aside of Land) (Chiredzi) Notice, 2021 published in Statutory Instrument (SI) 72A of 2021 on March 16 2021, Masvingo Centre for Research Advocacy and Development (Macrad) conducted a series of discursive meetings with a total of 15 village heads within the affected area in Chiredzi.
For starters, SI 72A of 2021 is the law that was gazetted to repeal the Communal Land (Setting Aside of Land) (Chiredzi) Notice, 2021 published in SI 50 of 2021.
The repealed SI had set aside about 12 940 hectares in Chiredzi to pave way for lucerne production and at the same time ordered the immediate eviction of the people resident within the set-aside land.
From the time the government showed intentions of evicting the indigenous Chilonga people, Macrad had been engaging both the people and the government over the issue.
After publication of SI 50 of 2021, Macrad went on to challenge the government’s decision through the High Court.
It was in the midst of the court challenge when the government partially reversed its decision through SI72A of 2021.
The reversal was partial in the sense that only the immediate eviction of the people was halted.
The decision to set aside the 12 940 hectares of land remained.
This in turn means that the probability that the government still intends to evict the people is very high.
Part of Macrad’s argument in the court’s challenge was that no consultations had been done by the government before its decision to evict the people.
Ironically, in the court papers, the Local Government ministry representative responded that door-to-door consultative meetings had been done within the affected area.
It is those averments, among other factors, that motivated Macrad to go back to the community to re-engage the people so as to find out if indeed consultations had been done.
Due to the Covid-19 regulations prohibiting large gatherings, Macrad had to engage only with the village heads and a few representatives.
The people complained that there has not been communication with the government.
They say they only heard of Statutory Instruments through the grapevine, the radio and social media.
Village heads in the affected wards took a step further and collectively delivered a petition to the government over its decision.
They complained that they never got any response from the government.
SI 51 of 2021, which set aside
12 940 hectares of land in Chiredzi, specified that the affected area was highlighted on a plan which is publicly open for inspection free of charge at specified offices which include the Chiredzi District Administrator’s office.
At the heart of the villagers’ concerns is intimidation by some government agents, who claim to be from the President’s Office.
The community leaders put forward that instead of seeing door-to-door consultations, they have witnessed door-to-door intimidation of people who publicly criticise the government’s decision to set aside land for lucerne production.
Masvingo Centre for Research Advocacy and Development