Rising anger as govt evicts villagers, demolishes homes 

Source: Rising anger as govt evicts villagers, demolishes homes – NewsHawks

HUNDREDS of families could be rendered homeless following the government’s directive to evict people settled on state land in rural, peri-urban and urban areas as mass displacements continue to wreak havoc across the country.

NATHAN GUMA

Since January this year, the government has been rolling out “Operation No to Land Barons and Illegal Settlements”, which it says is aimed at combating illegal settlements.

According to the police, 3 700 suspected land barons had been arrested as at 13 February, with 985 convictions and 3 360 cases still pending trial.

The mass evictions, reminiscent of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina, are taking a toll on ordinary citizens, sparking an outcry. The 2005 operation saw over 700 000 people being displaced from their dwellings.

This week, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said it is representing 327 villagers from Mahachi area in Chipinge district, Manicaland province, who are facing eviction amid accusations of illegally settling in the area.

Up to 80 of the villagers from Munyokowere Village, in ward 5 of Chipinge Rural District Council under Chief Mutema, are also accused of illegally settling in the area.

In Masvingo, which has been hardest hit, hundreds of villagers who settled in Mushandike Resettlement Area more than two decades ago have been forcibly evicted. The distraught villagers demolished their own homes after spending a night in police cells.

The affected villagers, who were given land by their village head and traditional chief, now find themselves compelled to seek alternative accommodation at Bhuka business centre in Masvingo.

Hundreds of dejected villagers are also apperating at the Gutu magistrates’ court, facing charges of illegal settlement on state land, according to a governance watchdog, the Masvingo Centre for Research, Advocacy and Development Trust (Macrad).

These include individuals who purchased land from village heads in communal and resettlement areas. Even urban residents who acquired stands from Zanu PF land barons are facing charges. They have been given until 10 May 2024 to vacate their properties.

“The individuals charged with illegal settlement assert that they had been paying rates as required by local authorities and receiving presidential inputs over the years. Their only crime is settling without what the government calls proper documentation,” Macrad said.

“The ongoing operation has led to a surge in arrests across Masvingo province for alleged illegal settlement. As of January 21, 364 individuals have been arrested across the province, according to government reports which claim approximately 13 000 illegal settlers are in the region.”

Traditional leaders, including village heads and chiefs, have spoken out against the forced removal of villagers who have lived on the land for decades.

“Their voices add weight to the growing concern surrounding the government’s approach to addressing land-related issues. Macrad vehemently opposes these mass evictions and arbitrary arrests, considering them a blatant violation of human rights,” Macrad said.

“We call on the government to re-evaluate its approach to addressing land-related issues, ensuring that the rights of villagers are respected, and any actions taken comply with both domestic and international legal standards. The evictees, who have lived in their current places for up to 20 years, built expensive homesteads and paid rates to local authorities, find themselves without viable alternatives. Macrad urges the government to prioritise the well-being of its citizens and provide sustainable solutions for those affected.”

The ZHLR has filed an appeal at Masvingo magistrates’ court seeking to suspend an order for the eviction of villagers from their ancestral land.

Earlier this month, Masvingo magistrate Ivy Jawona ordered the villagers to vacate the land within seven days.

The villagers were convicted for occupying gazetted land without lawful authority as defined in section 3(1) of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act and sentenced to serve three months in prison. The sentence was, however, wholly suspended.

Now, the villagers, represented by Phillip Shumba of the ZLHR, have asked the Masvingo magistrates’ court to stay their eviction pending the determination of their appeal against both conviction and sentence by the Masvingo High Court.

On 9 February, the villagers filed the appeal at Masvingo High Court challenging their conviction and sentence.

In their appeal, the villagers have argued that magistrate Jawona misdirected herself in convicting and sentencing them for illegally occupying gazetted land as some of them have been in occupation of the land for more than 40 years and had effected tremendous improvements to their land.

The villagers want the High Court to overturn their conviction, set aside the sentence and refer their matter to the Constitutional Court for a determination of the constitutionality of their arbitrary eviction.

According to a civil society organisation, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), the evictions are in violation of both the constitution and international law.

“Internal displacements are guided by the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (the Kampala Convention) to which Zimbabwe is a state party. The Convention applies to any form of internal displacement regardless of cause. Based on the reports that we received so far, it is evident that government agencies responsible for the ongoing evictions are in violation of both the constitution of Zimbabwe as well as international law,” ZimRights said.

“Section 28 of the constitution obliges the state to ensure that everyone has access to adequate shelter. Section 74 further provides protection against arbitrary eviction of people from their homes. An eviction is arbitrary where there is no proper consultation of the affected people, where there is no free consent, where there is no alternative land for them to settle on, there has been no impact assessment and no plan or resources for compensation of the affected persons.”

“ZimRights is outraged at these developments that are causing a wholesale violation of human rights in the pretext of implementing the law. ZimRights calls on the government of Zimbabwe to immediately halt these evictions. The law must protect and not destroy livelihoods.”

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