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Besieged villagers seek protection



MASVINGO Rural District Council chief executive officer Martin Mubviro and the province’s rural district police commander, Chief Superintendent Mangaliso Dube, have been sued by 62 villagers who are facing eviction from their ancestral land.


Mubviro is the first respondent while Dube is cited as the second respondent.
The villagers are from Chikutuva Village under Chief Mugabe in rural Masvingo.

Of late, Mubviro, being the Masvingo RDC boss, has been sending police officers to forcibly evict the villagers.

More than 50 villagers were arrested on allegations of violating the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act and forcefully ordered to vacate Chikutuva village.
The villagers are facing criminal charges as a result of the arrests.

However, represented by human rights lawyer Madock Chivasa, the villagers filed their application at the Masvingo magistrates’ court on Thursday seeking an interdict barring both police and the district council from visiting their ancestral homes for purposes of evicting them.

Part of the application reads: “The undersigned do hereby make oath and state as follows: The facts we depose to herein are within our personal knowledge and believe are true and correct…Our attached affidavits support our assertion that we are the rightful owners of the land in Chikutuva village under Chief Mugabe.

“We believe that the land in question is our ancestral inheritance and we are the rightful owners of the land. The first respondent is sending the 2nd respondent to evict us from our ancestral land. We have never been served by any eviction order by anyone, which renders any such evictions illegal.”

The villagers say they have pictorial evidence that their ancestors owned the land as far back as the pre-independence period.

They attached affidavits explaining the different circumstances of each household and said such circumstances compel the courts to protect them under the rule of law.

“We have always sincerely and religiously paid rates and taxes to the 1st respondent. There is not any given time that the 1st respondent indicated to us that we were settled illegally. If we were settled illegally, there could not be any sole reason why the 1st respondent would accept payment of taxes and rates from us?

“We are seeking protection from this honourable court in the form of this application for peace order and interdict against the 1st and 2nd respondent. The 1st and 2nd respondent should be interdicted from coming to Chikutuva village for the purposes of evicting any person/s.

“The 1st and 2nd respondent must also be barred from demolition of any structures. There has not been any offer for alternative land where we can go if we are going to leave Chikutuva village.”

The villagers also said any evictions therefore will be against the law and illegal, adding that 1st and 2nd respondents have no right to disturb the existing peace in Chikutuva village.
A fresh wave of evictions of villagers has been hitting several parts of the country but the worst affected are Masvingo and Manicaland provinces where hundreds of families risk being rendered homeless after the government ordered their arbitrary eviction.

The cases have spilled to the courts where the villagers are seeking court orders barring their eviction.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has come to the rescue of the villagers by offering legal assistance.

In Masvingo province, ZLHR’s Phillip Shumba filed an appeal at the magistrates’ court on Monday seeking to suspend an order for their eviction from the land.

“The villagers were on Wednesday 7 February 2024 convicted of occupying gazetted land without lawful authority as defined in section 3(1) of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act by Masvingo Magistrate Ivy Jawona and sentenced to serve three months in prison, which was wholly suspended.

“In addition, Magistrate Jawona ordered the villagers to vacate their land within seven days,” said the lawyers.

The villagers have since asked the courts to stop their eviction pending the determination of their appeal against both conviction and sentence by the Masvingo High Court.

“In the appeal, which was filed at Masvingo High Court on Friday 9 February 2024, the villagers argued that Magistrate Jawona erred and misdirected herself in convicting and sentencing them to serve jail terms for illegally occupying gazetted land as some of them have been in occupation of their land for more than 40 years and had effected tremendous improvements to their land,” the lawyers said.

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

The villagers argued that they were allocated land by the council, which on its own raised constitutional questions that ought to have moved the court to invoke the provisions of section 175(4) of the constitution and refer the matter to the Constitutional Court.

They contended that section 3(5) of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act directly infringes their right to freedom from arbitrary eviction guaranteed in section 75 of the constitution.

They also argued that magistrate Jawona’s order for them to vacate the only homes they had ever known within seven days was grossly unreasonable.

In Chipinge, Manicaland province, Tariro Tazvitya of ZLHR is representing 327 villagers who are accused of illegally occupying Mahachi and Munyokowere villages.

The villagers were brought to the Chipinge magistrates’ court on 10 February 2024 for their initial remand appearance.

They were set free after their lawyer made representations to the National Prosecuting Authority, arguing against putting them on remand on an incomplete docket as investigations by the Zimbabwe Republic Police officers had not been complete.

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