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Chief Svosve’s people: From land invaders to squatters




THEY inspired Zimbabwe’s land reform programme, but two-decades down the line they have been left out in the cold.

They endured the chilly winter and are bracing themselves for the upcoming rainy season.
See-through tents have become their homes where mother, father and children live together. They have been totally stripped of their dignity, and yet one cannot write the history of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme without mentioning them.

They are part of about 200 villagers from Maganga village near Marondera who invaded land belonging to Hunyani Estate at the onset of Zimbabwe’s chaotic fast-track land reform programme in 2000, who were evicted at the onset of winter.

The Maganga area is located in Marondera East, 20 kilometres from the town, which is also the Mashonaland East provincial capital.

The area is under Chief Svosve who mobilised his people to invade farms, thereby spearheading the land reform programme.

The Svoswe people, with the encouragement of the late Chief Svosve Enock Gahadza Zenda, armed with hoes and axes, moved into the Ruzawi commercial farming belt east of Marondera in 1998.

They invaded farms owned by white commercial farmers, arguing they were reclaiming ancestral land expropriated from their forefathers by the colonial settler regime.

They were evicted, but continued making noise and demanding land until President Robert Mugabe’s government yeilded, perhaps sensing an opportunity to use land as a campaign tool at a time a formidable opposition

in the form of the Movement for Democratic Change was threatening Zanu PF’s stranglehold on power.

The Svoswe people’s action was a precursor to the land reform programme, as it later inspired war veterans to invade farms with the support of Zanu PF. The land reform programe was used as a campaign tool during the 2000 parliamentary elections and the 2002 presidential elections, as well as subsequent polls.

But 20 years is a long time.

Hunyani Estate, armed with an eviction order and backed by heavily armed riot police, forcibly evicted the Maganga villagers in June. The villagers were dumped near the Harare-Mutare road.

Maganga kraalhead George Siyawamwaya revealed that they invaded the farm at the height of the fast-track land redistribution programme after which they were promised offer letters.
The offer letters never came, hence their current predicament.

Despite being promised to be allocated 210 hectares of land after they were evicted, the government is yet to fulfil its promise.

The villagers are living in unhyegenic conditions, exposing them to danger at a time the Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc in the country.

Their tents are closely packed, making it impossible to adhere to social distancing.
Maganga village health worker Violet Makoni said they did not have proper toilets, leaving them vulnerable to waterborne diseases.

“We are living in houses made of torn plastics, tents and grass as you can see. We were told to construct temporary houses since we were promised to be allocated land but the situation is getting out of hand as days keep passing by,” she said.

“It’s been two months now and our life is at stake as we are living under poor sanitation condition. We have improvised by digging shallow pits as toilets near our tents.

“On water we were not allowed to go back to our wells, so we are now using shallow open wells along the riverbank.”

Maganga kraalhead George Siyawamwaya said they used to sneak and fetch water from their previous homesteads, but they are no longer allowed near those places.

“We used to sneak into the area during the night, but we have been banned from there. Now we are suspecting that they might contaminate the water so that we cannot continue sneaking to fetch water,” he said.

Villagers also said they had been stripped of their dignity as they are sleeping in see-through tents.

Jeremiah Saidi, one of the villagers, said there is also a lack of privacy between parents and children.

“We are living with our children in one tent and it compromises our privacy. Some of our children are grown up to the extent that they must not share the same space with their parents, but this is happening here,” he said.

The Maganga villagers are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping the government will allocate them land. — STAFF WRITER

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