via Soldiers go on rampage – NewsDay Zimbabwe June 17, 2015
SOME soldiers allegedly burnt down homesteads of 22 Masvingo villagers and destroyed their crops last week in an operation to drive them away from a farm parcelled out during the land reform programme.
By Tatenda Chitagu
The villagers, from Chomufuli Farm in Gutu, yesterday had to seek the intervention of the courts to stop the soldiers from 4:2 Infantry Battalion army barracks at Mpandawana Growth Point from terrorising them.
In their application at the Gutu Magistrates’ Court, the villagers want Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi compelled to stop the attacks by the soldiers.
The villagers want the soldiers blocked from destroying their homes, harassing or threatening them with violence.
Sekeramayi is the first respondent, while the unnamed commander of 4.2 Infantry Batallion is the second respondent.
The case is set to be heard today by Gutu resident magistrate Edwin Marecha.
Prior to the court application, the villagers — who were beneficiaries of the fast-track land reform programme in 2002 — petitioned the district lands officer, claiming the soldiers wanted to grab their plots.
Through their lawyer Philip Shumba, acting on instructions from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, first applicant Solomon Nyashanu and 21 others claimed that armed soldiers stormed the farm on June 11.
The soldiers indiscriminately burnt the villagers’ homes and crops, which were ready for harvesting.
“As the mayhem ensued, most of the applicants ran into the bush, leaving behind their household property in the open and livestock unattended,” part of the application read.
“So tense was the scenario that the soldiers would mimic a battle zone by taking positions on the ground as if they were in a war situation. The sight of the guns sent applicants and their families into panic and are still scattered in all directions in the bush where some are still camped to date for fear of their lives.”
The villagers said the soldiers had no court order to enforce the purported eviction.
“In 2002, we benefited from government’s fast-track land reform programme and the Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement issued us with certificates of occupation (offer letters) to legitimise our stay,” the application further reads.
The affected villagers argued they built permanent structures and were productive on the land.
Their homes were torched at a time they were harvesting their crops. The villagers said approaching the courts was their last remedy as the government had ignored their pleas for help.
Villagers claimed the soldiers’ action was counter-productive and ultra vires the government policy of land redistribution as espoused in Zanu PF’s economic blueprint, Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation.
Shumba said he hoped the courts would treat the issue with urgency since their unattended property could be stolen by thieves who may take advantage of the chaos, while their children’s schooling had been disrupted.
“Applicants have a clear right over the land. They have ably demonstrated that they have already suffered actual injury and there exists more reasonable fear that more harm could be coming as the soldiers threatened to come back and evict everyone,” he said.
“We hope that today (yesterday), we will get a temporary relief as the applicants have already lost their homesteads and have been staying in the bush since then for fear of the soldiers.”