VICTIMS of the government’s continued arbitrary seizure of agricultural and communal land say the exercise is driven by corrupt and greedy officials taking advantage of the land reform programme and other policies.
There has been a wave of dispossession and repossession of land in Zimbabwe, targeting people perceived as government critics as well as vulnerable communal communities.
The latest high-profile dispossession is that of a farm belonging to the executive director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa), Siphosami Malunga (pictured) and his partners, which they say they bought and have title deeds to, adding them to the list of other people who have been targeted, including former Zanu PF officials Saviour Kasukuwere, Jonathan Moyo, Patrick Zhuwawo and Grace Mugabe.
Communities in rural Zimbabwe, including Chilonga in Chiredzi, Dinde in Hwange and villages in Chipinge district, are fighting to retain their ancestral land, as the government prioritises commercial interests.
In a webinar chaired by Phillan Zamchiya from the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), former cabinet minister Jonathan Moyo said the dispossession of his Mazowe farm was a painful moment for him as it was part of his family’s investment.
The webinar focused on the “Dispossession and Repossession of Farmland Post-Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe”.
“From personal experience, this phase of what is happening in the agricultural land sector is being done by possessive individuals not by the state because I don’t think there is a state policy to dispossess or repossess. These are individuals who are taking advantage of their positions,” Moyo said.
“If you look at the case of Chilonga, it is powerful individuals working with cartels, elevating it to policy through instruments. If you look at examples like myself and you ask who is targeted. They target people who have fallen out of favour or are now at odds with the ruling system. This is done to show how cold it can get outside and this is an ideology entertained in Zanu PF. Other targets are those presumed sponsors of regime change activities in order to show them that working with the enemy does not pay.”
He said they deploy intimidatory tactics, sending security sector officers and youth militia to frighten targeted families. At times they get the Lands minister to write eviction letters.
“My case was very painful for me because we bought the farm, we got a loan from CBZ and bought the farm in 2002. In 2005 (then Zanu PF spokesperson Ephraim) Masawi started sending people and attacking us, saying that we are occupying prime land while criticising the state. In 2019 when the late Perrance Shiri was Lands minister he targeted me specifically for criticising command agriculture. He deployed five military people and allocated them land on the farm. Then they were saying the farm was being used to hide weapons. Those five are not farming and the matter in court.”
Malunga said there is a specific approach to the way things are happening to serve elite interests.
“The motivation for dispossession of the community is usually primarily to serve elite commercial interests and elite personal interests. I am considered as a critic and hold views that are unpalatable. Unashamedly I am seen as the face of the organisation that supports communities or individuals to hold government accountable, promote and protect human rights and they do not like that,” he said.
“Somebody instrumental is know what, the government is unhappy with you, you’re talking too much, you are over-criticising. This organisation that you lead, you are a serious regime change agent. Then you are told the government is going to take over your farm because of this. As a matter of fact, Professor Moyo’s farm was referenced, that as soon as we are done with Professor Moyo and Saviour (Kasukuwere) we are coming to your farm. Of course my response was: Do your worst, we will be waiting. Then you realise it is an individual who has taken interest, and then you begin to see everything taking place and a minister has signed.”
Malunga said he and his partners were giving the government an opportunity to rethink their decision of dispossessing them of the farm before they take the fight to the next level.
“There is even a judgement by Justice (Nicholas) Mathonsi on this issue, particularly in relation to manipulation of power, the abuse of power and authority especially in relation to the security services sector. And we know there are times when the government decided to intervene on this serious abuse of power by its officials.”
The dispossession and repossession of land has also been criticised as a shot in the foot as it makes the country an unattractive investment destination.
Speaking during the webinar, the deputy board chairperson of the Masvingo Centre for Research Advocacy and Development (MACRA), Khanya Noko, who was representing the Chilonga community, said there is a need to repeal the Communal Lands Act which leaves communities vulnerable and has been used by the state to unjustly evict villagers.
“Communal Lands Act needs to be repealed and replaced with one that promotes secure land tenure,” Noko said.
Cynthia Gwaze, a gender wellness and advocacy officer with the Platform for Youth and Community Development (PYCD), said judging from the outreach and advocacy work they had conducted around the Chisumbanje community in Chipinge, it was clear the villagers feel neglected by the government.
“From the work that we do, the people’s sentiments are that the government is pro-elite and excludes those who don’t have money. Villagers in Checheche and in Munyokowere are dispossessed to pave way for residential stands by a property developer.”
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