Magistrate grants order barring eviction of 12,000 Chilonga villagers

Magistrate grants order barring eviction of 12,000 Chilonga villagers

MASVINGO – A magistrate on Friday granted an interim order barring the eviction of 12,000 villagers from their ancestral lands in Chilonga, Chiredzi, to pave way for a dairy company owned by a white farmer with links to President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Human rights advocates intervened and filed a lawsuit after local government minister July Moyo issued a notice last week ordering all the villagers to “depart permanently” from the gazetted 6,000 land hectarage that would be used to farm lucerne grass for stock feed.

The land would be allocated to Dendiary, a Kwekwe-based daily products manufacturer owned by farmer Neville Coetzee, who by Mnangagwa’s own admission, enjoys cordial relations and protection from the president.

Granting the relief, a Masvingo magistrate ruled that Moyo and his co-defendants – the Chiredzi Rural District Council and the District Administrator – should show cause why they were ejecting the “communal farmers from Chilonga Community affected by Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021 without first securing an order of the court” if they disagreed with the verdict.

The ruling was celebrated by the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN), and the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), which sued jointly on behalf of the villagers.

“We managed to secure an interim relief barring the arbitrary eviction which offends Section 74 of the Constitution,” the advocacy groups said on Twitter.

Section 74 stipulates that “No person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances.”

Weighing in on the raging debate before the interim ruling, constitutional lawyer, Professor Lovemore Madhuku said the government’s statutory instrument sanitizing the evictions was illegal.

“That statutory instrument is unconstitutional; it is based on an unconstitutional understanding of the powers of government over communal land,” Madhuku said.

“The colonial mentality which is still reflected in the statute is that communal land belongs to the State, and is owned by the president. But that right which is given to the president is not equivalent to the ordinary right of ownership, which other people use.

“If you are an owner of land you can easily displace anyone or remove anyone, that is not the case. Communal land rights are somewhat special rights, communal people cannot be displaced merely at the whims of government,” Madhuku argued.

The constitutional lawyer added that government should have approached the High Court “stating its reasons and then getting an appropriate order for those people to be moved to a different place.”

“Any statutory instrument of the nature that has been issued is unlawful and unconstitutional,” he added.

Chiredzi South and Chiredzi East lawmakers, Killion Kalisto Gwanetsa and Denford Masiya, whose constituents are affected by the attempted evictions appeared to hedge their bets or simply noncommittal.

Gwanetsa told ZimLive that he was still “engaging” the villagers before taking a position while Masiya said his “knowledge concerning the matter is as good as yours.”

But Chiredzi West MP Farai Musikavanhu came out in full support of the displacements.

“It’s very unfortunate that the opposition turns to put a negative narrative to all developmental projects and demonise vision 2030,” he said.

“Consultations were done and I can declare that as a resident within the community, I witnessed this happening and I attended some of the meetings as their political representative.”

Musikavanhu added: Those that are against the relocation need to be read the Statutory Instrument in full and the villagers are fully covered by the law from communal to commercial use of the land so they are de facto covered in the process of benefitting.”

MDC Alliance deputy spokesperson Clifford Hlatshwayo took aim at Musikavanhu, calling his statements “hallucinations of an ignorant regime that is divorced from the people’s issues.”

“People must not be removed from their land when they don’t want to. Why force development on people. Abusing state power. MDC Alliance will always speak and stand for the people,” added Hlatshawayo. – ZimLive