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Chilonga community sues govt over land grab

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HLENGWE Shangani people in Chilonga have filed a Constitutional Court application seeking an order to set aside Section 4 and Section 6(1)(b) of the Communal Lands Act [Chapter 20:04], which they say is a perpetuation of colonialism practices and a threat to their dignity. 

BRIDGET MANANAVIRE
Livison Chikutu, Pheneas Chitsange and Albert Dhumela said their planned removal from their ancestral land would be a breach of the constitution and the loss could never be compensated or quantified.     

          The villagers, who are being represented by prominent lawyer Tendai Biti, said they wondered why the Zimbabwean government was continuing with the colonial stipulation that blacks could not own land in communal areas, a practice meant to control and demean blacks, 41 years after Independence.

They also argued they would want to stay on their land to protect their sacred places, traditions and cultural practices.

Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement minister Anxious Masuka, Local Government and Public Works minister July Moyo, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and Attorney-General Prince Machaya are cited as respondents in the application, filed on Monday.

The government published notices indicating that approximately 12 940 hectares of communal land would be taken from the Chilonga villagers and set aside for lucerne grass production by a private company, Dendairy. 

On 9 March 2021, Moyo then published Statutory Instrument 63A of 2021, the Communal Lands (Setting Aside of Land) (Chiredzi) Notice 2021, (correction of errors) in respect of which he changed the purpose of the land being taken away from lurcene production to “the establishment of an irrigation scheme”.

The villagers said it did not make sense for over 12 000 people to be displaced for an irrigation system that is purportedly meant to benefit them, accusing the government of lacking sincerity over the real reason of displacements, which they suspect to be mining activities. 

“Besides, what kind of an irrigation scheme will occupy a piece of land of more than 12 940 hectares in Phase One and eventually 21 000 when the project is through?” Chukutu’s affidavit reads.

“Quite clearly there is some ulterior motive behind our intended ejection.  Our fear as a community being that probably the land we occupy has minerals such as diamonds that have been discovered, and the Government is forcibly trying to eject us so that it benefits from our diamonds. 

“We do contract farming for Delta for its Chibuku and Ingwebu brews.  We also do some contract farming for some cotton companies.  We therefore do not understand why the lurcene grass growing project cannot simply be contracted to us in the same manner that Delta does contract farming with us with regards to small grains.”

Chikutu said they did not understand why 12 500 people can be ejected for the interest of one white farmer.  

“We find this more ironic in the context of the liberation struggle.  Furthermore, it is wrong and myopic, the belief that private big estates are the only vehicle for economic transformation despite the widespread evidence of their detrimental effects on the African continent,” Chikutu said.

“The purpose of this application is to set aside Section 4 of the Communal Lands Act [Chapter 20:04] as well as Section 6(1)(b) of the same Act on the grounds that, the same are an infringement of our right to life, our right to human dignity, our right to property, our right to equal protection and benefit of the law and our right to culture and language as protected by Sections 48, 51, 71, 63 , 56(1) and Section 68 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.”

Section 4 of the Communal Lands Act vests all communal land in Zimbabwe with the President.  
“Section 4 was born out of an ideology of racial segregation and discrimination, that regarded Africans as too uncivilised to possess property rights. White people were allowed to own rural land and have title deeds in the same communities.  Whereas us Africans who were next door were not allowed to own land,” the application reads.

The Shangani people said the land the government wants to evict them from is theirs and they can trace their history and how they settled in Chilonga.

“In our case, we were not placed in south-eastern Zimbabwe in the Lowveld by colonialism.  Our land is not a by-product of Tribal Trust Lands unlike the majority of rural land in Zimbabwe.  The white man found us already there.  The white man did not touch us because our territories are too hot and too dry,” the affidavit reads. 

“Therefore, our land was not artificially created and artificially carved out by the Land Apportionment Act.  To then say we can’t own that land is absurd.”

They also shed light into their Nguni rites and customs, for instance how deceased elders and heads of families are buried inside their houses in a crouching posture, holding a spear in line with their proud history.  

According to the court documents, when some prominent members of the community die, particularly the “masvikiro” (spirit mediums), they are wrapped in cow hide and buried inside the cattle kraal.

“For the rest and ordinary members, we have sacred places where we bury our people.  Elders are not buried in coffins but younger people are buried in coffins,” the application reads.

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